Every effort will be made to open the Fenit Greenway in time for the 2021 tourist season, but Kerry County Council can make no promises that the project will be completed by next summer.
Last week’s Tralee edition of The Kerryman carried an open letter signed by 53 local businesses and interest groups calling on the council to ensure the long-awaited amenity is ready to receive visitors next summer.
Last month it emerged that, due to the COVID-19 crisis, the Tralee to Fenit Greenway – which was previously expected to be open in time for the summer 2021 tourist season – is not now expected to be completed until the end of next year.
Based on information provided to councillors last month, work on the 10.6km walking and cycling route – which began in late 2019 but was halted completely for two months due to the pandemic – is roughly one third complete, with about half the old Tralee-Fenit rail line now cleared. The opening of the route in time for summer 2021 is seen as vital to Tralee and the surrounding areas’ chances of a successful post-COVID recovery next year.
While this sentiment was clearly expressed in last week’s open letter, Kerry County Council and Tralee Chamber Alliance have suggested it may not be possible.
Mayor of Tralee Cllr Terry O’Brien said last week that Kerry County Council has done everything it can to progress the project.
The Mayor told Radio Kerry that due to health and safety restrictions and the lack of space along the line work on the project – which he said was the main priority for the council – it cannot proceed any faster.
He added that while he “understands people are frustrated”, some councillors were a “little taken aback by the letter”.
“They kind of said ‘Jesus there’s only so much we can do you know’,” he said.
Fianna Fáil Cllr Mikey Sheehy took a different view and called on the Council to “do everything in their power” to ensure the Greenway is ready for next years tourist season.
Cllr Sheehy has repeatedly called on council management to provide more-up-to-date information on the progress of the project, and it was a question from him that led to the admission that completion of the project would be delayed until late 2021.
“The Greenway is going to be a game-changer in terms of attracting tourism and families to Tralee, Fenit and Kerry. It’s a huge opportunity to attract and expand the offering of the area, and the potential the project offers an exceptional opportunity,” he said.
“That being said, our tourism sector has been severely affected by COVID-19. Tourism is one of the pillars of the Kerry economy, and it is for this reason that the Greenway Project has to be ready for the tourist season 2021. Businesses need to be given the opportunity to plan and promote in time for next year’s tourist season.
“I have raised concerns with management regarding the project’s timeline and I have asked that every resource possible be made available to the project and to the project team,” said Cllr Sheehy.
Meanwhile Tralee Chamber Alliance – which did not sign the open letter, though many of its individual members did – said it has “assurances” from the council that every effort will be made to advance the project.
The Alliance did not expressly support the contents of the letter, but the lobby group issued a statement on Friday to “acknowledge” it and the “desire expressed” in it regarding the Greenway.
“We wish to acknowledge the recently published open letter, and the desire expressed on the timelines for the opening of the Tralee-Fenit Greenway. Over the past number of months Tralee Chamber, working in collaboration with Mayor Terry O’Brien, the Elected Members and the Tralee Municipal District office of Kerry County Council, have been engaged in ongoing reviews of the progress of these works,” said the statement.
“We have assurances every effort that can be made, will be made to accelerate the project. The opening of the greenway in advance of summer 2021 would without question be of significant value economically to the tourism sector in Tralee and in Kerry as a whole.
“In discussions between Tralee Chamber, the Mayor of Tralee and the Tralee MD, this fact has been acknowledged and accepted unanimously. A number of proposals are under consideration should the early opening of the full greenway not be achieved pre-summer 2021. We fully intend over the coming weeks and months ahead to continue to engage on the progress of the greenway.”
Details of the alternative “proposals” referred to in the statement have not been revealed.
The letter and the full list of signatories can be found on The Kerryman Facebook page.