Brakes put on Slieve Bloom Bike Trail with Failte Ireland's funding in doubt

Lynda Kiernan

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Lynda Kiernan

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lynda.kiernan@leinsterexpress.ie

Slieve Bloom Bike Trail gets double green lights from Laois and Offaly authorities

Coillte's planned Slieve Bloom Mountain Bike Trail, which Laois and Offaly communities are counting on to attract thousands of tourists a month, has been thrown into fresh doubt this week.

The project that would install 73km of challenging offroad bike trails across the Slieve Blooms, attracting recreational tourism and creating local jobs, has been in the pipeline since 2010.

It received planning approval from both Laois and Offaly county councils last February 2017.

However this week, Failte Ireland stated that it has not even considered whether to fund the project, originally estimated to cost €4 million.

""Failte Ireland is working with Coillte as a strategic partner on a number of projects. This project only recently got planning, and Coillte will be working with the local authorities to put together an operational plan. They haven't agreed how to operate it. Once that is started, we will be happy to sit down and discuss feasibility. We will look objectively at it. Key is does it have strong tourism potential, will it bring overseas visitors. If it does then of course we will be well disposed to it," a Failte Ireland spokesperson told the Leinster Express.

No timescale was given however, and Failte Ireland's website says applications are closed for its grants scheme for 'Large Tourism Projects 2016 to 2020'.  

Coillte had originally planned to open the first section of the trail this summer.

Following concerns raised by local businesses, a meeting is understood to be planned in the coming fortnight including Failte Ireland, the local authorities and Coillte.

The trail would have a hugely positive impact, says Chris Byrne from the Slieve Bloom Rural Development Society.

"It is a very important project for the whole midland region, these are high end tourists with expensive bikes spending big money. At the moment there aren't enough trails in Ireland for a week's holiday and this would make it worth their while to come to Ireland, it would benefit the whole economy, and people's health. Locally there would be employment in food, bike repairs and accommodation. It would mean real rural regeneration," she said.

She is confident that Minister Charlie Flanagan is "doing his best".

"We feel we have been neglected for years by government bodies. Whatever department this comes from, it needs to be funded," Ms Byrne said.

Laois County Council CEO John Mulholland has assured that the project will happen.

"LCC considers the Slieve Blooms Bike trail a critically important project to sustain and enhance the tourism and recreation business in Laois. While the Council cannot speak for Failte Ireland it is currently working with all stakeholders and prospective partners to ensure the delivery of the trail. To this end the Council is adamant the project will not fail. Furthermore the Council sees no reason why it cannot proceed as planned," he told the Leinster Express.