CLARE will ‘have its hand up’ when it comes to accessing a recently-unveiled fund of €1.8 billion, a briefing on the Active Travel has heard.
The online event with Transport Minister Éamon Ryan was attended last Thursday night by up to 200 people and facilitated by Green Senator Róisín Garvey. Among the expert panel was Senior Engineer with the Project Management Office (PMO) who told the minister that Clare County Council is “a winning local authority,” ready to capitalise on the transformative opportunities offered by the fund.
At the outset, the Green minister said his department would work with authorities who were willing and able. “If other counties aren’t willing or aren’t interested, that’s fine,” he said. “We’ll get those who are to show best example and best practice.”
Minister Ryan who, at one time, ran a cycling tourism enterprise in Clare, outlined his vision for the Active Travel initiative, citing his own memories of this county.
“I always remember years ago I was near Kilnaboy and looking for a very beautiful cross there, it’s hidden away, I could see it on the map, but couldn’t find it,” he said. “I came to a clearing and there was an older woman and we started talking. She directed me to the cross and I said, ‘Isn’t it a beautiful place?’ She said, with great pride, ’It is surely and I wouldn’t change it for the whole of Kilnaboy’. That just really grabbed me because for her, that was the whole world. I think what we’re doing with Active Travel has the chance to [create] connection to place.
The Active Travel Fund follows agreement in the Programme for Government that 20% of the capital budget for transport will go towards walking and cycling. “It’s transformative,” the minister said. He also outlined how up to 218 additional staff will be employed across the local authorities with an additional 30 proposed for Regional Cycling Design Offices.
Responding to Minister Ryan’s presentation, Mr Lenihan said: “The minister mentioned that he wanted winning local authorities. Well, on behalf of Clare County Council, I want to put up my hand. We’re a winning authority, we’ve a proven track record in this area. Objectives relating to smarter travel, active travel, sustainable mobility, walking, cycling, local carbon economy, all that kind of good stuff, building tourism, improving rural connectivity, they’re all over our County Development Plan. It’s what we’re about here in Clare and we very much look forward to getting involved more in that area.”
Mr Lenihan added that the council is working very closely with the NTA and the department in relation to the recently announced €50m for towns and villages. “We’ll certainly come back to your department for one, if not two, if not three people from your approved list of additional resources,” he said.
As well as a presentation from Mr Lenihan, which included details of the 320km EuroVelo cycling route and the 110km West Clare Greenway, there were also updates from Éanna Rowe, Regional Manager with Waterways Ireland, on the Shannon Greenway link from Scariff to Limerick, as well as a contribution from Síle Ginnane of Better Ennis on the issue of network design and mobility audits.
Ms Ginnane urged people to consult and collaborate on Active Travel initiatives. “It’s really important that any designs are inclusive,” she said. “We should avoid stereotypes. Lots of older people cycle and walk. There are all different types of disability. Very often, people are disabled by the built environment and all ages need to be accommodated. Do reach out between local authorities and community groups. People are dying to give feedback. They’re dying to help out and make suggestions.”
Speaking from Ennistymon’s DigiClare hub, from where she hosted the virtual meeting, Senator Garvey said the lockdown had given people an increased awareness of their local environment. “We walked and we cycled in our 2k, then our 5k and we rediscovered our local areas. Now, everybody wants to be able to do that more than ever before. It’s not just a case of people live me who have been 14 years trying to get people out of cars in every backwater in Clare with active travel and The Green Schools programme. Now, with a minister for transport who’s come from that background himself, and with funding there, and the climate emergency, health issues, pollution and the fact that people know it’s really good for them mentally and socially and it reconnects people, there’s never been a more important time for all of us to come together and do everything we can to make our county and our country a safer, healthier space. People-centred infrastructure is what we need and, thanks for the minister for transport, we now have got funding and staff to help us make that happen.”