By Lynda Kiernan firstname.lastname@example.org @laoisnews
The much anticipated Slieve Bloom Mountain Bike Trail might never be built, with funding not yet found, and Coillte now reviewing all of its mountain bike projects.
However Coillte insists its work is ongoing to find a funding partner so it can build the 100km track that it says will bring 50,000 visitors a year to the Slieve Blooms
Coillte says it is “working with potential funding partners to explore funding opportunities”.
It is also working with the councils to develop an operational model to show how the trail would be sustainably managed in the long term.
It is currently reviewing its 2012 ‘Off-Road Cycling Strategy', to be done by July, to “ensure it is still achieving delivery of the desired objectives and goals” in the changing MTB market.
The review includes input from Failte Ireland and will “determine if targets that were originally developed are still valid and how they are to be prioritised in future”.
The trail has a price tag of €4,5 million, with over 100km of mountain bike trails, to be completed over time.
Centred on two trailheads at Kinnitty, Offaly and Baunreagh in Laois, visitor facilities are to include an information point, toilets, showers, a café, and car-parking at both trailheads, also available for mountain walkers and hikers.
The semi state forestry company said its work is ongoing to ensure that the project can be delivered.
“With all projects of this scale, there are objectives for the developers, promoters and funders which must be aligned if a real and valuable partnership is to be formed to deliver the project,” it said.
While the project could bring millions of euros in tourism to the area, the support of Fáilte Ireland is not yet ensured.
The trail received planning approval from Laois and Offaly county councils last February, and is in the pipeline since 2010.
However Fáilte Ireland has not yet considered whether the project is feasible and so worth funding.
"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,” a spokesperson said.
Once that plan is in place, he said ”We will be happy to sit down and discuss feasibility. We will look objectively at it. Key is whether it has strong tourism potential, will it bring overseas visitors? If it does then of course we will be well disposed to it," he said.
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', so if it gets funding, it may not be for another four years .
With local businesses voicing concern about the project's future, a meeting is to take place shortly of Failte Ireland, the local authorities, Coillte and all stakeholders.
Attending will be the Slieve Bloom Rural Development Society, who want the bike trail.
"It is a very important project for the whole midland region, these are high end tourists spending big money. There aren't enough trails in Ireland for a week's holiday and this would make it worth their while to come to Ireland, benefitting the whole economy. Locally there would be employment in food, bike repairs and accommodation. It would mean real rural regeneration," said PRO Chris Byrne.
She believes Laois' Minister Charlie Flanagan is "doing his best" to secure funding.
"We have been neglected for years by government bodies. Whatever department this comes from, it needs to be funded," she said.
Laois County Council CEO John Mulholland is also committed to the trail.
"LCC considers it 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 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, and sees no reason why it cannot proceed as planned," he told the Leinster Express.