Antrim and Newtownabbey councillors defer decision over bathing water responsibility

Antrim and Newtownabbey councillors have deferred a decision over taking on a new responsibility as bathing water operator at Rea’s Wood, Lough Neagh, in Antrim, pending further information.
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Rea’s Wood was nominated by the borough council as an official bathing water as part of the review of Bathing Waters 2022/2023 carried out by Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA). It is understood the council’s responsibility would end at the shoreline with no responsibility for water quality.

A report considered by Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council’s Operations Committee, at a meeting at Antrim Civic Centre, on Monday evening, said the location met the preliminary criteria and as a result water quality was monitored throughout the 2023 bathing season.

Last summer, the council issued warnings that blue/green algae blooms were detected in the water at Rea’s Wood, Antrim Loughshore, Cranfield Point/jetty and along the Toome Canal. The Rea’s Wood site has now been formally identified as a bathing water and the borough council has been asked to confirm its willingness to undertake responsibilities. Sites needed more than 45 bathers or 100 beach users to be included.

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

As a bathing water operator, the council would be required to inform DAERA’s pollution hotline and take appropriate management measures to protect bathers’ health when it becomes aware of any pollution incidents/abnormal situations/exceptional weather events that could be considered a risk to human health.

It must provide information to the public and if possible, remove any pollution and if necessary, issue temporary advice against bathing.

Councillors have said previously open water swimming has become increasingly popular at Jordanstown and Antrim Lough Shore Parks with a rise in groups and individuals swimming at these locations during the Covid pandemic.

In September, councillors supported a motion for a working group of relevant agencies to be established to address the Lough Neagh “crisis” after hearing blue/green algae had spread to such an extent that it was visible by satellite.

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Airport Sinn Fein Councillor Annemarie Logue proposed the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) immediately establishes a body comprising of DAERA (Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs), Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), Public Health Agency, NI Water, Food Standards Agency, Inland Fisheries and the four councils that border the lough to develop a strategy to “address the poor water quality, and in particular, the impact of toxic blue green algae affecting Lough Neagh and its impact on the environment, the lough’s residents, businesses and recreational users”.

She said at the time: “Lough Neagh is in crisis. What we have seen over the summer is years of neglect and abuse of the lough.”

Dunsilly Alliance Cllr Jay Burbank asked then chief executive Jacqui Dixon to write to DAERA and its agencies to come in person to a full council meeting to “show their actions on the current crisis” and to be scrutinised by councillors.

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter