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Greenway ‘intimidation allegation rejected by Galway County Council

The head of the team leading the planned greenway between Galway and Athlone has refuted claims of intimidation and a lack of engagement with land and homeowners affected by the preferred route.

In a spirited defence of how they have handled the process to date, Director of Services in the Infrastructure and Operations unit of Galway County Council, Derek Pender, insisted they had undertaken well over 1,500 face-to-face or phone call consultations with landowners over the past 15 months.

He was speaking in front of a handful people from Stoney Island, Kilcolgan and Eyrecourt who attended this month’s Loughrea Municipal District meeting and who were among 100 people who had signed a petition stating there was “fundamental distrust in the project team” and accusing them of “serious inappropriate engagement practices”.

They vowed to no longer speak individually with the project liaison officers, but only when in the company of neighbours.

Mr Pender said approximately 350 potentially impacted private landowners had been identified along the emerging preferred route.

It starts near Ballyloughane Beach in Renmore, passing through Oranmore, Rinville, Clarinbridge, Kilcolgan, Kinvara, Gort, Woodford, Portumna, Meelick, Clonfert, Ballinasloe, Shannonbridge, and finishing at Athlone Castle before linking with the cycleway to Dublin.

“Where landowners have engaged with this process, they have been listened to and their thoughts and potential issues identified. Where feasible, the route has been amended to address identified issues whilst ensuring the continuity of the route, end to end,” he stated.

He outlined how three focused public consultations have been held since 2020. During the second public consultation 11,631 submissions were received on Route Corridor Options between January and March 2021, of which 95% were positive; 3% were neutral and 2% were negative.

“Between May and December 2021, the project liaison officers visited and spoke to landowners and farmers across the project study area which includes approximately 550 telephone calls and 650 face-to-face meetings.

“Furthermore, between February and August 2022 the project team have had over 375 meetings or telephone discussions with landowners whose property is within the preferred corridor. This demonstrates that the project team have and will continue to actively engage with landowners.”

Corridor Option 5, which includes Kinvara, Ballinderreen and Kilcolgan, attracted the highest number of submissions totalling 1,896. This segment of the cycleway is approximately 15km or 7% of the over 205km route.

Overall, he believed there was “positivity and support” for the project over approximately 90% of the emerging preferred route.

County Councillor Geraldine Donohue (Ind) said people wanted to know why the project consultants were insisting on destroying farmland when existing infrastructure exists and the council passed a motion to allow a hybrid solution – going along the road when agreement could not be reached to cut across land.

They also wanted to know why the consultants were being allowed to threaten people with Compulsory Purchase Orders when this was only to be used as a last resort.

Cllr Jimmy McClearn (FG) said the project team would have to rebuild trust with property owners, “because right now we’re going nowhere”.

Cathaoirleach ‘Moegie’ Maher said people who did not want the greenway to happen were scaremongering about CPOs and warning elderly people that people would travel down from Dublin and break into their homes.

Mr Pender said the project team were willing to organise a physical public participation event in different areas to talk individually or collectively with people affected with maps clearly outlining their properties.

“To hear comment that the team are using as a threat the CPO process is unfounded and indeed unfair . . . I am satisfied that the project team has at all times acted in good faith and behaved appropriately.”

The hybrid model would only be used in discreet isolated areas that were specific pinch points.

“It’s not safe to put cycleways along a national or regional route, it’s okay over short sections, but going to kilometres and kilometres.”

(Photo Galway County Council Director of Services, Derek Pender: project team has “behaved appropriately”)

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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