The Proposed South Kerry Greenway – Conversations between KCC and Department of TT&S

Kerry County Council says its original cost estimate for the South Kerry Greenway didn’t include the cost of land acquisition.  

This was revealed in correspondence between the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the local authority when funding was being sought for the proposed greenway. 

Can you give us an outline of what you received?

I’m going to focus on the correspondence between Kerry County Council and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport between 2014 and 2016, specifically in relation to funding. The information we have was released to journalist Anne Lucey and Radio Kerry.

So, in November 2013, Kerry County Council applied for funding for the proposed greenway under the National Cycle Network Funding Scheme 2014/16.

The local authority said the 32km greenway, from Glenbeigh to Renard, will comprise three phases and will be completed by November 2016 at a cost of €4.7m.

Of this, Kerry County Council was due to put forward 10%.

The council said that the majority of land along the greenway is in private ownership, while a small section will be on the public roadway. It said it’s engaging with landowners at the moment.

That’s an outline of what was planned. The council had gone about securing funding for the proposed greenway. How much in funding was subsequently granted?

Tom Curran, then-County Manager, received an email in (10th) April 2014 from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, saying the greenway has been approved for funding of €3.45m for phases two and three of the project. This was under the National Cycle Network Funding Scheme 2014-2016.

Mr Curran was notified in June 2014 that phase one of the greenway has been awarded €450,000 under the Government Stimulus Package 2014 for Cycle and Greenway Development. However, one of the conditions is that the project must be completed within 12 months of that date.

The department states that the local authority should reimburse them if the project is not fully completed within the specified time frame. The council agreed in writing to these conditions on the 23rd June, 2014.

So, in mid-June 2014, Kerry County Council had €3.9m in funding secured – albeit with conditions on €450,000 worth of funding, that the first section be completed within 12 months. At this stage, what was the estimated cost of the entire greenway?

In the middle of 2014, the estimated cost was €4.7m. The council hoped to draw down nearly one third of the €450,000 funding in 2014 and the rest in 2015 for phase one, which is Cahersiveen to Renard.

Around two month later (August 2014), there was confusion over matched funding to be provided by KCC. In summation, the department said the council signed terms and conditions in June 2014 – one of which was to deliver the project within 12 months. They asked the council if anything has changed, would they let the department know what’s realistically achievable over the coming 12 months. It added there was no additional funding available.

I understand that the first mention of CPO – compulsory purchase order – was mentioned in correspondence later in 2014.

The department noted in October 2014 that it had seen a number of articles about CPOs and an official said to engineer Paul O’Connor they “hope that aspect won’t prove too problematic”.

The council’s Paul O’Connor said at this time that following discussions with landowners, along with environmental studies, there will not be an underspend in the project. At this stage, October 2014, the total cost was still €4.7m.

He said that “[…] the stimulus projects will be delivered on time and within budget.” (Phase one)

In the fourth quarter of 2014, the council also reference phases two and three – which is Cahersiveen to Glenbeigh. It said that land acquisition by agreement is not possible.

A hand written note, with the name T. Sheehy attached, said “council motion by Johnny Healy-Rae not to use CPO in relation to project was defeated, 28 to 8”.

In December 2014, the CEO of KCC announced the council would be proceeding via CPO. Estimated delivery of this section of the greenway – which would be the entire greenway, in effect – was December 2016.

That’s a summary of events up to the end of 2014. At this stage, the greenway was due to be built in its entirety by the end of 2016 and funding of €3.9m was secured. What developed during 2015? 

The council said there have been eight meetings in relation to acquiring the land by agreement. This is despite the CEO saying the previous month that the council were planning to use a CPO. In January 2015, Esmonde Keane was appointed as the council’s senior counsel for the scheme. He was heavily involved in the oral hearing last year.

In briefing notes ahead of a meeting with then-minister Alan Kelly in February 2015, the costs for the greenway jumped. There were additional costs for maintenance, branding and marketing. More on this in a moment.

In an email to engineer Tom Sheehy, the department noted that the council are experiencing issues on the first phase of the project in relation to landowners, along with the decision to use CPO for the Cahersiveen-Glenbeigh section; Tom Sheehy said the greenway is still planned to be completed by December 2016.

In March 2015, CEO Moira Murrell asked for the funding under the Stimulus Package – €450,000 – to be maintained and the period to be extended in line with the plan for the main greenway. In summation, the council was not able to adhere to the condition of completing the first phase within 12 months.

In June of that year, the department hears there’s a “very significant overrun anticipated on the greenway project” from engineer Tom Sheehy. The department hears the costs have jumped from €5.5m to €10m.

Was there any reason given for the increase in costs?

An update from the council said that the original estimates for cost did not include land acquisition.

(From Council documents) The increased costs were also due to claimants’ representative fees, legal fees, engineering advice, authority representatives, a barrister for the CPO, the cost of land and land acquisition fees.

Overall, at this stage, the costs were nearly €10m.

In a quarterly report (Q1 2015), the council said “originally acquisition of the land was to be secured using the model of the Mayo greenway where permissive access was accepted.”

During the Summer of 2015, I understand a meeting took place between CEO Moira Murrell and Minister Alan Kelly. Following this, there were some internal queries in the department over the rise in cost. What came of these?

Following this meeting, the department sent on a link from the Guardian newspaper about how spectacular the route will be. Of relevance, they noted that Moira Murrell had mentioned there were savings to be made on the €10m cost – they wanted more information on this.

Internal department documentation also discussed the council’s information about the greenway. They said, “it would seem the construction cost (of €6.5m) does now not include a significant section (the Glenbeigh to Mountain Stage section). I’m rapidly losing faith in KCC’s ability to construct this at any sort of a reasonable price.”

Later, the officials said, when discussing information sent by Tom Sheehy and the council, “We would have a disconnected route. And that figure was also predicated on having the 2.5m width, that was specifically rejected at the meeting. This is getting more ridiculous […] I’d like to read him the riot act to be honest” – and there was more in that sentence, but because of legal issues, we won’t air it here.

That day, another official said “a serious dose of reality needs to be brought into discussions on this project, particularly in relation to standards of construction and costs vs outputs.”

A chartered engineer in the department commented on a section of the proposed greenway on which the council was focused. This section was at Mountain Stage. What was said?

(June 2015) A chartered engineer with the department said “it would seem that their ground conditions are very challenging and it would be wrong of me to comment on their figures, but it does seem like a very expensive facility. Their construction costs seem to be €393,000 per km for the full length. Our estimates […] are in the range 140k-200k. I imagine that it is very beautiful though.”

Some weeks later, Tom Sheehy provided an update on costs. It was now €13.4m. He also said that KCC might be able to raise a loan of €3m to part fund it, but this was only an estimate and had not been approved by the CEO. Department officials said it’s not an option to end the project at Mountain Stage as it’d be hard to market.

It added a decision needs to be taken by September as to whether the project should continue.

So, the estimated cost was €4.7m in 2014, rose to €5.5 by June 2015, €10m later that month and €13.4m by September 2015. Fast forward to later in 2015. What happened?

The cost rose to €16.1m.

A workshop took place between the council and department in December, during which officials visited South Kerry.

At this stage, the department had allocated €3.9m to the project. Notes from the workshop showed planning and purchasing the land through CPO was estimated at €4.8m, meaning the funding would not even meet those costs.

Following this meeting, there appears to have been a change of tone in the department’s correspondence, despite their issues when the costs were lower. They complimented KCC on their attempts to progress the project and find ways of lowering the costs.

Moving onto 2016, KCC said it had used the Great Western Greenway as a guide, but admit it turned out to present a completely different set of challenges. KCC says its dilemma now is how to proceed with the project and sell it to elected reps and the local community.

In April 2017, briefing notes for the minister from the department said “the minister should avoid being drawn into the details of KCC’s proposed strategy in relation to land acquisition for the greenway. This is a matter for KCC first and foremost in consultation with local landowners.”

Since then, following continued disagreement between Kerry County Council and the affected landowners, an oral hearing was held last year. We’re due to get the outcome of that shortly.

Eamonn Hickson – 16th June 2020

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Additional information – Kerry County Council response – 16th June

In relation to the internal department correspondence of June 2015 and the concerns raised in relation to the projected estimates for the project, these comments must be viewed in the following context. The South Kerry Greenway was a forerunner of what is now the accepted standard for greenways in terms of various engineering elements such as surfacing, alignment and gradients. No project of this standard and complexity had been constructed at that time so there were no comparative costs available to the Department by which to judge the Kerry County Council estimates submitted.

At this time the Capital Infrastructure Unit of Kerry County Council were preparing a full project appraisal and cost benefit analysis in accordance with the provisions of the Capital Works Management Framework for projects of this scale. The very purpose of this process is to ensure that as a project moves from the conceptual to the detailed design stages that the costs are updated to reflect the actual costs.

As the design issues were being identified these costs were being incorporated into the costings for the project. This process was running concurrently with the detailed design of the project over a number of years. This incorporated a cost / benefit analysis which, following detailed analysis, was subsequently approved by DTTAS. This analysis highlighted the substantial benefits of the scheme to the economy of South Kerry. As part of the assessment process the department carried their own review of the proposals by Kerry County Council which stated that KCC had ‘examined all possibilities for value engineering the project and that the solution proposed is appropriate’ and concluded that: ‘The obvious attention to detail of you and your team gives us great comfort with regard to the cost estimates’ (correspondence of 17 December 2015)

Council defends escalating costs of proposed South Kerry Greenway – 17th June

Kerry County Council has defended the escalating costs of the proposed South Kerry Greenway.

Senior Engineer Tom Sheehy was speaking after it was revealed the estimated costs increased from €4.7m to over €16m during 2014 and 2015, while last November’s estimate was over €20m.

Kerry County Council received funding in 2014, when the estimated cost was €4.7m.

The local authority now says it may have been naïve to base the proposed greenway on the existing Great Western Greenway in Mayo, which has a permissive access agreement with landowners, where landowners maintain ownership of the land.

Mr Sheehy says the original estimate didn’t include land acquisition costs.

However, he says the council was breaking new ground in many aspects of the project and new greenway standards were published in 2014.

Mr Sheehy says the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport complimented the council on its attempts to keep costs down.