At the end of September, Kerry County Councillors, who are members of the Tralee Municipal District, will decide whether to approve a proposal by the local authority to make a diversion to the proposed Tralee-Fenit Greenway.
Two years ago, the proposed greenway, which it’s intended would follow the route of the original rail line from Tralee to Fenit, received planning permission.
But the council is now proposing that there would be a 700-metre diversion from the original route. Radio Kerry’s Treasa Murphy is trying to establish why the council is proposing this diversion and has heard conflicting reasons as to why this change is being put forward.
Where’s the proposed diversion?
The Tralee to Fenit Greenway will be 10 kilometres in length and is due to be finished by autumn 2021. It’s proposed by Kerry County Council that at Bawnboy near the Clogherbrien Bridge, there would be a diversion from the route that follows the disused railway line – this diversion would be 700 metres in length.
A report will be presented to councillors in Tralee Municipal District later in September before a decision is made on the proposed diversion. This proposal has been made under a Part 8 planning application by the council, which sets down the process by which local authorities can get planning permission for their own developments.
Today (Friday, September 4th) was the closing date for people to make submissions to the council on the proposed diversion. The local authority then makes a report on the submissions it’s received. The elected members – the Tralee Municipal District councillors – after examining the report, will decide whether to support the detour or not. If they have no objection, then the development can proceed in accordance with the recommendation of the CEO of Kerry County Council.
A submission from a group which has been campaigning for the greenway prompted Radio Kerry News to try and establish why the Part 8 application was made by the council.
The Friends of Tralee-Fenit Greenway Group, which ardently supports the project, is strongly opposed to the diversion from the original rail line at Bawnboy, Tralee. The group lists several reasons as to why it's opposed including its belief that the integrity of the line will be compromised and that an additional 700 metres will unnecessarily add to the journey and deter cyclists who might opt for the shorter route by public road.
The Friends of Tralee-Fenit Greenway Group also states that it was led to believe that a business is refusing to vacate a short section of the line or to adapt to accommodate the greenway passage. I inferred from reading this that the group believed that the proposed diversion was prompted by the business because of its refusal to move from its site along the disused rail. The group does not identify the business in the submission.
But doesn’t Kerry County Council own the land where the Tralee-Fenit Greenway is being built? CIÉ gave the land to the local authority.
Yes, the land is owned by Kerry County Council. But, as often happened with disused land, people came along and built homes or established businesses. Under the law of adverse possession or squatters’ rights, as it’s commonly known, someone acquires exclusive possession of the land after occupying it continuously for a certain period of time. In most situations, this occurs after 12 years but if the title owner of the land is a state authority – and councils are not included as state authorities for this purpose – then it’s 30 years. Therefore, as it’s Kerry County Council which owns the land in question, the 12-year rule applies.
What was Kerry County Council’s response to the view expressed by the Friends of Tralee-Fenit Greenway Group that the reason for the proposed diversion is because of a business's refusal to relocate and that there might also be issues surrounding adverse possession?
The council didn’t address this in its answer. It outlined the Part 8 process and said Kerry County Council "can confirm that there is no anticipated additional cost or delay involved as a result of this statutory process which is considered the most cost-effective way of developing the greenway at this location."
Was the business contacted?
Yes. The submission by the Friends of Tralee-Fenit Greenway Group does not identify the business, however, I established that the enterprise is Southwest Pallet Production in Bawnboy. I spoke to the owner Martin O’Regan. He says the business has been in operation since 1985 so by the laws of adverse possession, is legally entitled to be there.
What did Mr O’Regan say to claims that his business was refusing to relocate?
Martin O’Regan says he has always been 100% committed to the Tralee-Fenit Greenway and that he wants it to follow the original railway line. He says he’s very happy to relocate to any one of several different locations. He says he is not holding up the greenway project. He states he was told by the council that it was proposing the 700-metre diversion because it would cost too much to relocate his business, having to provide new facilities at the new site.
What was the council’s response to what Mr O’Regan had to say?
The council says it has nothing further to add.
Have other groups who have campaigned for the greenway commented?
Anluan Dunne is with the Kerry Cycling Campaign. He is also associated with Friends of Tralee-Fenit Greenway but commented in his capacity with the Kerry Cycling Campaign. He says some county councillors were under the impression that Southwest Pallet Production was refusing to budge and hence, in the interests of avoiding delays in completing the greenway, the council proposed the diversion at Bawnboy. Martin O’Regan of Southwest Pallet Production denies this, as outlined, and says he is very happy to relocate. The Friends of Tralee Fenit Greenway Group didn't wish to add further comments to its submission made to Kerry County Council.
What impact does this have on the completion of the Tralee-Fenit Greenway?
The seven councillors of Tralee Municipal District must decide whether to approve the 700-metre diversion. Even if they do, the Part 8 decision may be appealed to An Bórd Pleanála. Councillors will want to establish exactly why this proposed diversion was put forward given that Martin O’Regan has stated that he has no problem with his business being relocated. Those who would urge councillors to give the go ahead to the detour argue that it’s only a 700- metre diversion. They point out it's an additional 700 metres in a route that's 10 kilometres in length and that it's important that such a welcome amenity as this would be finished as soon as possible. The ultimate plan is that the Tralee-Fenit Greenway will connect with the Great Southern Trail – which would run from Limerick to Tralee.
However, the Friends of Tralee-Fenit Greenway Group fears the diversion will lead to a time overrun and that it will add an extra cost although the council says that wouldn’t be the case. The group believes if the diversion is allowed it would represent, in its view, "a failure to protect public land, a public right of way, and a failure of resolve to properly carry out a project which has full planning permission." The group says if the Part 8 is passed and the detour proceeds, it asks that "it be a temporary measure" and that the original plan be progressed by whatever legal means necessary.
The Kerry Cycling Campaign says the proposed diversion bypasses significant historical railway features associated with the 133-year-old line. Anluan Dunne of the Kerry Cycling Campaign states: “All parties must re-engage in meaningful, transparent and constructive discussions to create a solution that satisfies the needs of all involved. It is also critical that our public representatives engage in this process to ensure it is successful. Should it not be possible to come to an agreement in the near term, the Bawnboy diversion should be seen as temporary.”
The deadline for submissions to the Part 8 planning process was Friday, September 4th at 5pm.
Report by Treasa Murphy.