Latest Laois News: Greater appetite among Community Groups to use Public Land
Community Groups Show Appetite for Using Public Land
Coillte received 42 applications from groups seeking to use their lands in Laois in 2019, prior to the Covid outbreak, while Bord na Móna has seen a spike in amenity-use requests with 30 applications in the last six months.
This appetite from community groups and recreational enterprises came to light in a webinar – Land Use, Community & Enterprise – hosted by Minister Pippa Hackett to bring state landowners and interested parties together.
“It’s clear there is huge interest in making use of the land,” said Minister Hackett. “We had people on the webinar interested in equestrian trails, arts opportunities, walkways and more. It’s important that they know the processes for accessing state land.”
Around 90 people attended the webinar, which was addressed by representatives of Coillte, Bord na Móna, ESB, Failte Ireland and the Local Enterprise Office (LEO).
Amanda Walsh of Bord na Móna said the webinar was timely from their perspective.
“We’ve seen an increase in the number of amenity-project from 30 application over a 20-year period to 30 applications in the last six months,” she said. “And the scope of the projects is increasing in size.”
Ms Walsh emphasised the importance of projects aligning with the company’s climate solutions strategy.
“We need to be very measured and planned,” she said. “We’re not going to have monster truck rallies across the bogs. We have devised a new process which involves screening and a pre-qualification questionnaire.”
She predicted that the company’s Peatlands Climate Action Scheme will transform the land and develop potential for amenity even further.
Coillte issues permits to school groups, businesses, events, and community groups to use its land. Area manager Ger Buckley said the company was well used to dealing with permit queries as their land in the Midlands is quite heavily used.
“We have an open forest policy for individuals and small groups but outside of that you need a permit,” he explained. Activities on Coillte land range from archery to car rallying, orienteering to mountain-biking.
“Everybody’s idea is welcome,” said Mr. Buckley. “We take into account the service being provided and the environmental management. We have a Leave No Trace policy. With business applications we will recognise the benefit to the local economy.”
With the closure of Shannonbridge and Lanesboro power stations, the ESB has land for which it is considering further us. Donal Phelan of the ESB said the two sites are effectively industrial complexes which don’t have the amenity potential of Coillte or the ESB. However, he said the Dalton Centre – currently used for ESB archive material at Shannonbridge – has potential as an enterprise centre.
“It could be useful for community start-up schemes and we are in talks with Offaly County Council about that,” he told the webinar.
For those with ideas for tourism and recreation projects, Failte Ireland has a Community Tourism Toolkit which was presented at the webinar by regional manager Derek Dolan.
“The passion of a local community group has to be matched with organisational expertise,” he advised.
This was echoed by Orla Martin, head of enterprise at the Offaly Local Enterprise Office.
“Preparation is key for success and credibility when you approach a stakeholder like Bord na Móna or Coillte,” she said. “Assess your own skills, define your business structure, and reach out early to find out what funding streams are available.”