Transport Minister Shane Ross has said the Government is committed to looking at ‘all route options’ for the Athlone to Galway greenway.
Speaking in the Seanad, the Minister said there is ample evidence that greenways have an economic benefit for towns and villages along their routes, and are important for regional tourism development.
He was responding to queries from Senator Maura Hopkins, who said immediate action is needed to prioritise the development of the Athlone to Ballinasloe greenway. She has underlined the need for local consultation on the matter.
“There remains significant untapped tourism potential right across the Roscommon/ Galway region, and the development of the Athlone to Ballinasloe Greenway has the potential to bring an influx of tourists into the area,” she said.
She pointed to the success of the new Waterford Greenway which was used by over 250,000 people in its first year, providing a huge economic boost for that region.
“I strongly believe that this greenway from Ballinasloe to Athlone and onto Dublin can provide a major boost for South Roscommon and East Galway,” she said.
“In progressing this project, it is essential that proper engagement takes place with all local stakeholders, including landowners, the community, local authorities and state agencies. We need to look at all possible options to ensure that a consensus can be found on this development,” she added.
Senator Hopkins said that a renewed focus on this section of the Greenway route was even more timely given the launch of the €53m National Greenway Strategy.
“It is essential that renewed focus is placed on the Athlone to Ballinasloe section of greenway in order to ensure we can secure funding for this project,” she said.
Minister Ross said that all route options need to be looked at, but declined to go into any detail on any emerging preferred route.
“We need to start again and look at all route options for the entire Athlone to Galway section. I will not pre-empt the work of the group devising the code of best practice and it would not be appropriate for me to go into any great detail about the specific route between Athlone and Galway.
“It is important to reiterate, however, that we have ample evidence from the current long-distance greenways, such as those in Waterford and Mayo, of the economic benefits that accrue to the towns and villages along these routes.
“Jobs have been created in cafés, restaurants, hotels and bike hire companies that would not otherwise have been created and those jobs support other jobs and households in the locality. This has assisted in retaining people in their own locality rather than them having to leave for jobs in our larger cities. That is why we regard greenways as so important for regional tourism development as well as health and well-being.
“We continue to view the Galway to Dublin greenway as the most likely national greenway of scale and international appeal and are committed to its construction should an agreed route be found. I do not want anybody to get the impression that we lack determination or there is any diminution in our determination that this greenway will go ahead,” said the Minister.