Land acquisition and engineering challenges see South Kerry greenway costs almost quadruple

Mary O'Connor from Waterville gives her son-in-law, Junior Transport Minister Alan Kelly a friendly push off after he turned the first sod for Phase 1 of the South Kerry Greenway project at Mannix Point, Cahersiveen, Co Kerry. Picture: Don MacMonagle.

The original application for funding for the South Kerry Greenway “made no provision” for the cost of land acquisition from over 170 individual landowners, documents released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal.

By December 2015, within two years of the application the estimate for the greenway had reached €16.1 million - almost four times the original applied for under the National Cycle Network Funding Scheme to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.

The scheme is now expected to cost more than €20m.

Land acquisition, along with a requirement for a compulsory purchase order (CPO) for the land when agreement with all landowners could not be reached, and significant engineering challenges has seen the costs soar.

Kerry County Council modelled the project on the 42km Great Western Greenway where the railway had also reverted to private ownership but there the Mayo landowners gave “permissive use”.

However in Kerry acquisition quickly become a major battleground in what is to be a flagship greenway project in three sections over 32 kms along Dingle Bay and on to Cahersiveen. It was announced by then Junior Minister Alan Kelly in 2014.

The documents relating to the period 2014-2017 released by the Department express mounting concern that too much money was being offered by the Council for poor land for a greenway.

Kerry was basing its land offers on the IFA/NRA compensation for roads schemes and this would set a precedent and “costs for all greenway projects are going to rise substantially", according to the documents.

An internal department report in December 2015, on foot of a site visit and a workshop attended by Kerry County Council CEO Moira Murrell, and representatives from Transport Infrastructure Ireland and the Department, noted the “knowledge and enthusiasm of the KCC staff for the project,” and the proper design.

However it also said: “The total cost of the three phases is now at €16.1 million. The cost of bringing the project through planning and purchasing all land through CPO is now estimated at €4.8 million, so all the funding allocated to date will not even meet the cost of planning and land purchase.” 

The decision of an oral hearing into the project is expected in weeks.

The estimated cost has now reached more than €20 million, an An Bord Pleanála hearing held in November 2019 was told.

The IFA has protested over the use of CPO outside county buildings. It is vehemently opposed to using the CPO mechanism for a greenway leisure facility, it told the hearing.

Asked for a statement Kerry County Council said this greenway is the first to have to deal with land acquisition and with challenging engineering difficulties.

“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.”

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