Antrim and Newtownabbey Council: £24k contribution to Lough Neagh Partnership questioned

The benefit to the ratepayer of a £24,000 contribution to Lough Neagh Partnership was questioned at a meeting of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council’s Community Planning Committee on Monday evening.
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Lough Neagh Partnership has requested the council, a stakeholder, agrees to an increased annual contribution of £24,200 to cover the period from April 1 until March 31, 2025.

The Partnership was established in 2003 to help manage and protect the lough. The board is made up of elected representatives, landowners, anglers, farmers and local community representatives.

A report to the Community Planning Committee says the council “works closely with the Partnership on a range of issues, in particular, marketing and promotion of the lough as a tourism asset”.

Lough Neagh. Pic: Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough CouncilLough Neagh. Pic: Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council
Lough Neagh. Pic: Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council

Speaking at Monday evening’s meeting at Mossley Mill, Macedon DUP Councillor Ben Mallon requested the Lough Neagh Partnership is represented at the next committee meeting to “understand what they do and how the Partnership benefits the ratepayer”.

Ursula Fay, director of Community Planning, said she would be happy to make a further request for the Partnership to attend. She pointed out the council has a “detailed service level agreement to provide detailed progress reports on a regular basis”.

In response to a request from the Partnership for an additional £6,666, Airport Ulster Unionist Alderman Paul Michael BEM said: “I do not see where there is benefit to the council with regard to £6,666.”

Comprehensive Development

Lough Neagh Partnership has requested a contribution towards match- funding for a National Lottery Heritage Fund project, described as “a comprehensive development” aimed to be delivered in 2024/25.

Councillors were told the Partnership has been successful in acquiring project development funding of £224,395 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund for the development of a new heritage landscape plan, the examination of options and business plan for the potential purchase of the bed and soil of Lough Neagh from the Shaftesbury Estate, and the employment of a co-ordinator.

The council together with Mid Ulster District Council and Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council have each been asked for £6,666 to make up the £20,000 sum needed for the project to progress. The committee agreed to the request for £24,200 but not the £6,666 sum.

In a presentation to Antrim and Newtownabbey councillors in December 2022, Lough Neagh Partnership reported it has brought “substantial investment” of almost £4m to the borough.

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Gerry Darby, manager, of Lough Neagh Partnership, described the lough as “the biggest environmental site in Northern Ireland”. However, he pointed out it has no navigation authority, no links with Waterways Ireland and no inter-departmental management body and no dredger.

He explained the Lough Neagh Partnership Strategic Plan 2023-2028 seeks to help set up a new inter-departmental management structure and install a marker system and dredger. The development strategy also aims to “create new green economy business opportunities and help develop navigable rivers” such as Blackwater. It also aims to promote food development and seeks to redress habitat and species loss.

The Partnership’s Lough Neagh Shoreline Plan is a management plan drawn up to help conserve important designated features such as its population of diving ducks, breeding waders and special habitats such as wet woodland.

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter