The Ulster Farmers’ Union has expressed concern over the process followed by local councils when negotiating the acquisition of land for the development of greenway projects across Northern Ireland.
UFU legislation chairman, James O’Brien said, “Farmers are not anti-greenways. We recognise the environmental benefits they can bring, such as helping to prevent soil erosion. We also understand the role they can play in developing tourism, and the economic benefits of increased visitors can make to rural areas. However, we are keen to ensure that all farmers affected by such projects are involved at an early stage and treated fairly throughout all stages of the planning, development and construction phases. With local authorities failing to engage effectively and collaborate with farmers, the UFU believes that the success of Greenway projects is limited.”
The UFU says landowners impacted by proposed greenways should have their rights safeguarded, and is urging local authorities to ensure that landowners are consulted in advance of route selection and the publication of a preferred route corridor.
O’Brien said, “Voluntary agreements should be made with landowners and no land can pass to the ownership of local authorities without the consent of the original landowner. When selecting a desired route, local authorities should consider protecting and limiting any potential impact to any farm business. They can do this by ensuring any available public land is utilised before looking to acquire land that is privately owned. Any loss of income resulting from exclusion in farm schemes should be fully compensated. Local authorities should consider arranging a series of public meetings as the project progresses, in order to allow landowner queries and concerns to be addressed.”
The UFU has suggested the appointment of a dedicated project liaison officer on each project to help ensure landowner queries and concerns are addressed correctly, and restore landowner confidence in such projects.
Mr O’Brien adds, “Our message to local authorities is clear – not engaging meaningfully with farmers and landowners at an early stage will ultimately lead to the demise of greenway projects.”