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Growing cash for land row threatens Irish road plans

NEWS

IRISH FARMERS have slapped a blanket ban on co-operation with the country's IR£6bn (£4.8bn) roads programme in an escalating row over land payments.

The Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) has instructed its members to bar access to all survey and site investigation staff because it is unhappy with levels of payments being offered for land compulsorily purchased for roads projects. Compulsory purchases will affect around 8,500 farmers.

The action will not affect construction work which has started because the land has already been bought. But the campaign could delay schemes where route surveys and site investigations remain to be carried out.

'We are very concerned and delays are already being caused, ' said National Roads Authority (NRA) head of corporate affairs Michael Egan.

He said a £2.4M site investigation contract at Clonee in County Meath which was due to be signed has been put on hold due to the row. But he also revealed that a list of mega-projects, including design and build projects and roads being built under Public Private Partnerships, could face particular delays if the dispute continues.

'This could affect schemes running well into hundreds of millions of pounds if contractors cannot get access to land to carry out survey work, ' said Egan.

Schemes at planning stage which faced possible delays include the 51km N3 Clonee to Kells route; 171km N6 KilcockOranmore and 123km N9 Kilcullen-Waterford multi-scheme routes.

Egan said that the NRA had set aside around £300M out of schemes costing £3.2bn for land acquisition, and said that farmers were looking for up to £360M on top of this. 'We cannot pay over the odds for land. We are publicly accountable, and if more money was spent, the programme would suffer, ' he said.

Under Irish law, if local authorities and landowners fail to agree a price, arbitration follows. The IFA representative leading the campaign described arbitration awards as a 'farce' and said levels were based on 'archaic laws' dating from 1919.

'It's buying by disagreement rather than agreement. Construction prices are going up and are being paid for, but so are land prices and we want to be compensated fairly for that, ' said IFA industrial committee chairman Francis Fanning.

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