There can be a tendency to dismiss greenways as just creating routes for tourists that have no value to communities, but in fact the main beneficiaries of trails are the communities through which they pass.
Greenways deliver obvious benefits, a place to walk and cycle away from traffic, a place to push a buggy and let small children run and play, a safe commuting route to school and work, the value of healthy exercise. But there are other advantages to having a national trail on your doorstep.
Greenways create jobs; this has been the experience everywhere. From cycle hire to service jobs in the food and construction sectors, the invigoration of an area by developing a trail through it results in a lot of extra work, and somebody has to be paid to so it. These jobs are sustainable too; they don’t disappear to a low-wage economy when taxes change.
Greenways improve the quality of life for everyone. In the case of old railways or canal towpaths, cleaning them up and making them accessible gets rid of dereliction, fly-tipping of waste and antisocial behaviour. Making an area a nice place to visit makes it a nice place to live.
Greenways create business opportunities. The increase in economic activity that a greenway brings will create opportunities for enterprising people. Hotels reopen, and guesthouse accommodation is revived. Farmers in Northumberland were some of the biggest beneficiaries of the Hadrians’s Wall Path; many of them turned old stone sheds into camping barns and are earning significant income from these enterprises. The same trail spawned a number of baggage-carrying companies that move bags from one hotel or guesthouse to the next each day, leaving walkers to travel unencumbered. These same companies also provide a courier service along the route that supports other small enterprises.
Greenways keep existing businesses open for the benefit of local people. We complain when key local businesses close, but additional visitors to an area can keep them open. In Waterford the Deise Greenway now supports a number of thriving businesses that were headed for closure before the development took place. Newly created businesses also serve the local population.
Greenways increase property values. The experience everywhere has been that property values tend to increase when a greenway is developed, and it is common to see property advertised in relation to its distance from such infrastructure.
Greenways attract other jobs. One of the key factors used by companies in deciding on a location is the quality of life in the area, essential to retain staff. A region with no ‘quality of life’ attractions will be quickly dismissed by an industry seeking a base in Ireland.