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Home / News / Mayo residents object to greenway on ecological grounds

Mayo residents object to greenway on ecological grounds

Landowners in the Clew Bay area, Co Mayo are objecting to a proposed new greenway route which they say will cut through their fields and cause widespread ecological and environmental damage.

Instead, they want an existing roadside route between Westport and Murrisk village upgraded.

Mayo County Council and Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) say the overall aim is to provide a continuous high-quality loop across the entire county. They say there will be ongoing consultation with landowners at every stage of the project.

Here in the foothills of Croagh Patrick, a planned new 6km section of greenway has become a contentious issue in the local community. Over 40 landowners say they will be impacted if the route goes ahead.

One of them is 86-year-old Cecil Horton whose property is at the start of the proposed new route.

As he leans over his gate looking across his small farm holding, Cecil says he can’t sleep at night worrying about what will happen to his property.

“I’m so against it because it will start at my driveway, come up through my driveway, knocking my garage and taking away all of my privacy at the gable of my house.

“Then it’s going through the best farming field I have for my silage and if that happens, I’ll be on a farm where I won’t have vegetables because I won’t have any crops. And I’m totally against the whole thing because nobody has ever come to me to say a word to me about it. They don’t ask, they just say what they’re going to do and that’s it.”

Cecil Horton in his kitchen looking at maps and existing cycleway across from his house

Cecil attended a public meeting at the Sheebeen pub in nearby Rosbeg a few months back to hear plans outlined by the project team.

“Nobody ever came near me, neither the council or TII. The only thing we had was this meeting and they were telling us what they were going to do. We really know nothing except for the maps and documents that were handed out.”

“We have a greenway as it is on the main road going from Westport to Murrisk and there’s three miles from Westport out to my house and how is it that greenway isn’t good enough for them that they have to go through our land. It’s not. It’s not on at all.”

He says he meets a lot of visitors coming by his farm to take a photo of Croagh Patrick.

“They think it’s beautiful. Sure we live in a beautiful part of the world. And then these people come along and want to put a roadway through our land and ruining the whole place, especially when there’s a walkway down the road. There’s no need for it at all.”

The cycleway will go through Cecil Horton’s land

Cecil Horton says he would rather go to jail than accept compensation for voluntary acquisition of his required land.

“Well, no matter what compensation they give me I wouldn’t accept it. Because they’re making no more land, land is a thing and it’s gone and when the land goes, we have nothing anymore. So, no matter what money they’d offer me I wouldn’t accept it.

“I was born and reared here, and my mother had a little grocery shop. They won’t come onto my land in my lifetime and after I go, my family will fight the same way for our land.”

Lucy Fabby is another landowner who says the new route would disrupt the ecology of the Cloonagh Valley and surrounding hills.

“The land I own is just adjacent to where the greenway is going. They’ve pulled the line up a bit out of my land because it floods so badly but it’s not enough.

“I own horses and I run a dog daycare. I use the fields because it’s private. I can run and train dogs in there without any public interference, basically. So, it’s really going to affect me with people cycling past and it also floods here severely and very regularly so we don’t know where the water will go if there’s a structure put in. So, it’s going to be environmentally detrimental.

“There are pearl mussels in the river. It’s a salmon river as well and I sort of feel it’s untouched here. It’s a beautiful wilderness and there’s otters, there’s kingfishers and egrets coming down and landing and I just feel the destruction of putting this road in is going to cause huge issues.”

Lucy Fabby

Lucy argues there’s no need to bring the public into the area being planned for the greenway because she says there’s a maze of little roads, similar in size to the greenway being proposed.

“You can cycle walk here already with very little traffic. And you get wonderful views from a height on the roads are already there. It’s so beautiful the way it is. I think that’s what people come for.

“If they’re going to criss cross it with more tarmac and fencing I just think it’s going to take from the whole valley anyway. I don’t think they’ve thought it through. And I don’t think they’ve listened. They think it’s a little flood. It’s not! I should know. I’ve lived here for 35 years.”

Landowners say they are not opposed to a greenway, but they want it built alongside the existing cycle and walkway along the main road between Louisburgh and Murrisk. This, they say, would benefit the whole community and not just visitors during the summer season.

Peter Shanley is spokesperson for the community campaign opposing the route.

“There is an existing walkway and cycleway there, and by upgrading the road, all of the community will benefit from it. This greenway will cut right through our lands and down through a beautiful river valley and end up causing nothing but destruction of the whole area.

“We fully support upgrading the existing cycle footpath along the main road to Louisburgh and we fully understand and appreciate that we must accommodate our cyclists and walkers.

Peter Shanley says the proposed route would be ‘ecological and environmental vandalism’

“We feel that the existing walkway and cycleway along the main road could be improved, and the road could be realigned and there’s absolutely no need for this ‘bulldozer effect’ going right through our pristine green valley and our woodlands and all over the slopes of Croagh Patrick and the attempt to do this has been forced on us with no consultation. And it is with the threat of a CPO (Compulsory Purchase Order) if we don’t talk so in fact, there is no consultation when you have a CPO hanging over your head.”

Peter Shanley insists that the landowners are not opposed to greenways in general and points to the success of the old rail route between Westport and Acaill Island.

“We’ve done this in Mayo already. We were leaders in building greenways, but it was built on an existing old disused railway. And there were no gradients, it was level. So, what they did was they fenced and surfaced it and they used it for cyclists and walkers only. And that incredibly successful.

“But to go build a road in the middle of a pristine valley, when we’ve already got a road with a walkway and cycleway attached to it anyway. It’s like running two trains to Dublin. Side by side. The facility is already there. It’s only a matter of upgrading it.”

Those supporting the emerging preferred route say it would be a safer option and a more pleasant experience. Local Fine Gael councillor Peter Flynn is a keen cyclist and says the option of upgrading the existing route is not a simple case of “erecting a barrier”.

Peter Flynn is a Mayo County Councillor

Greenways are now subject to strict safety standards imposed by Transport Infrastructure Ireland. They must now be a minimum of 3m wide and if running alongside a main road there must be an additional divide of 2m. Many properties would also be impacted along this route.

He outlines the reasons why the proposed route is the emerging preferred option.

“I’m really impressed with this route. It would run from Aughavale graveyard in Westport, across through Belclare and all the way to the visitor’s centre at Croagh Patrick. It brings in an old famine trail with some magnificent views and it would be such a unique part of the greenway.

“It’s away from traffic and I think that’s what anybody on a bike is looking for so I think it’s very positive and people can view it on Mayo County Council website. Obviously we want to fully engage with landowners to get the necessary approval and so forth. Unlike other greenways in Mayo, they will be compensated for whatever land is required.”

However, others argue that T have adopted “heavy handed tactics” and are approaching the development of a greenway in the same way as they would a road network.

Fianna Fáil councillor, Brendan Mulroy, says the consultation process has been very unsatisfactory and the potential use of CPOs (Compulsory Purchase Orders) has engendered a lot of fear and anger.

“The CPO process is a very sharp instrument. Previously it was ‘permissive access’ so you had to consult with farmers and you either got an agreement or you didn’t. If the agreement wasn’t forthcoming, you moved away. Whereas with the CPO process they’re negotiating with you, they’re consulting with you.

“But they know that you must take what they’re offering you at the end of the day. You’ve no choice in the matter. But I’ve news for them. These local people will not stand for that and I’ve no doubt this will end up in the high court.”

Michael Salmon has been a sheep farmer in the area for 60 years.

“This new route is splitting my farm in two. The fence will straight across the middle of my farm from one wall to the other. It means when I’m moving sheep, I’ll have to get help to cross the greenway. There’ll be a gate I presume either side, so I’ll have to get help to move my sheep.

“I have a share as well in the commonage in Croagh Patrick so it’s not making sense at all. We have a lovely cycle track back along the road and I cannot see how money cannot be put into that. It’s a crying shame what’s happening because it’s a lovely little valley and completely unspoiled. It’s such a steep incline though and the amount of rain that comes off that rain in wintertime. I don’t see how they’re going to make a road in it.”

Michael Salmon

Richard Horkin stands on the existing cycleway in front of the house he grew up in and where his father Cecil now lives alone.

“I suppose our contention here is why would we create something brand new, spend a lot of money on something when we have an existing cycle/walkway to Murrisk. It just needs upgrading, a little bit of TLC, a little bit of upgrading.

“I’m not being practical, not political. We all support the right of walkers and cyclists to have greenways, but this proposed route is unfair. This is my father’s home and his land which he works fully. It will potentially be taken away from him because in reality do you want a house that is close to a greenway.

“No Consultation has taken place at all with anyone directly. We’ve had two events in two different public houses, where they presented first, a lot of options.

“Secondly, we were presented with this option, which is the one we’re describing today. And our feeling is because it’s come to that preferred option so quickly, without any proper consultation is that we’re faced with a fait accompli and we may not have a lot of choices, and that’s what we’re fighting this.

“Our fear is it will get pushed through by Transport Infrastructure Ireland. It’s a national rather than a local organisation with a lot of power and we’ve seen that in other parts of the country where CPO has been used.”

Both Mayo County Council and Transport Infrastructure Ireland say they are continuing to liaise with landowners who will engage on a one-to-one basis and that Compulsory Purchase Orders will only be used as a last resort.

Statement from Transport Infrastructure Ireland on the greenway:

“Two public consultations have been held on the Belclare to Murrisk greenway scheme to date. Following the latest consultation, Mayo County Council/Transport Infrastructure Ireland are taking on board feedback from the public and landowners and are carrying out a Multi-Criteria Assessment of further variations to the preferred route in the area. This is to primarily to avoid areas of potential flooding and to minimise severance to landowners where feasible.

Mayo County Council staff are available on behalf of Transport Infrastructure Ireland to discuss landowner concerns and are continuing to liaise with landowners who are willing to engage on a one-to-one basis in accordance with the Code of Best Practice for Greenways which aims to have a voluntary land acquisition process.

“This collaborative process is supported by Transport Infrastructure Ireland and a Compulsory Purchase Order process will only be used as a last resort.

“This process is resulting in further refinement and design development which are subject to Multi-Criteria Assessment. It is expected because of this process that the majority of the route will be removed from areas of flooding.

“Where severance cannot be avoided appropriate accommodation works will be provided to landowners to maintain farming operations.

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