Further funding of €6.4 million has been allocated for the completion of the Blessington Lakes E-Greenway.
The project received €5 million in June of 2019 under the National Strategy for Greenways Fund, and the latest allocation brings the total funding for the next phase of the development up to €11.4 million.
The Department of Transport has announced it will cover 100 per cent of the project because of the negative impact Covid-19 has had on Local Authority finances. Initially, Wicklow County Council was expected to fund 60 per cent of the greenway costs.
The greenway currently covers 6.5kms along the shores and through the forests adjacent to Blessington Lakes. The completed greenway will include the addition of a complete loop around the lakes of more than 40kms.
John Horan is the Chairperson of the Blessington Town Team and has been spearheading the delivery of the greenway for the past decade.
'This is great news for Blessington, Wicklow and Ireland's Ancient East,' said Mr Horan.
'The new greenway has the potential to bring many opportunities for the lakeside community and for tourism and economic activity in West Wicklow and the county as a whole. We have seen this happen in similar greenway developments elsewhere and - given our location in one of the most scenic parts of the country - we are well placed to replicate and surpass these achievements. It will also be a wonderful amenity for local residents.'
A recent meeting of the Blessington Lakes E-Greenway Project Board heard that matters are progressing well, if slightly slower than would have been hoped, with Covid-19 restrictions also having an effect. Wicklow County Council hope to commence the works early in the New Year, with a completion date expected by mid-2022. The greenway will encircle Blessington Lakes and pass through Valleymount, Ballyknockan and Lacken, with spurs to Tulfarris and Russborough House.
The Consultants Aecom Ireland and engineers from Wicklow County Council have walked the entire route with ESB officials and the detailed design work for the route is near completion. All necessary impact assessments and construction management plans will also be completed this month reflecting the necessary enhancement works of the detail design stage of the project.
Following the completion of these reports, the Local Authority will engage in public consultation with all stakeholders, while keeping in mind current public health restrictions.
Local representatives have also welcomed the funding announcement.
Cllr Gerry O'Neill said: 'This is great news and the completed greenway will really put Blessington and west Wicklow on the map. A lot of work has gone into the project and I thank all involved. This a great opportunity to move forward together.'
Cllr Edward Timmins said: 'This is a huge boost, and combined with the €5 million already received, paves the way for the completed greenway. I want to congratulate all the people involved in the project. It will be a huge boost for the whole area.'
Cllr Avril Cronin said: 'Phase 1 of the Blessington Greenway launched in February 2014 consists of a 6km walk from Blessington to Russborough, and has already attracted many tourists to the area and has become a regular leisure amenity for locals and tourists. The planned extension will be a major attraction not only to west Wicklow but to the county as a whole. It will have huge economic benefits to Blessington and the surrounding areas, and will attract tourists from far and wide to experience first hand the unique beauty we have here in west Wicklow. I have to commend that dedication and commitment of the Blessington Greenway Group and the local community, along with Wicklow County Council for their ongoing work and tireless efforts in securing support and funding for this project. The Blessington Greenway is a prime example of the power of a community and the amazing things that can be achieved.'
A new website for information dissemination will be launched and work has commenced on preparing the new greenway 'hub' at the former Health Centre on the Kilbride Road in Blessington, along with the recruitment process for the management and construction team. Expressions of Interest will be sought for certain commercial operations related to the development - such as a possible local shuttle bus service around the lakes.