My Department’s statutory responsibilities are essentially limited to a duty of care on its properties — we must take reasonable measures to prevent danger to the public or damage to property. For inland waterways this applies to those sections of the abandoned Lagan navigation, Coalisland canal and Upper Bann navigation, which remain in Government ownership.
Specifically, in relation to the Lagan towpath between Belfast and Lisburn, which is owned and maintained by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, my Department makes an annual financial contribution to Lagan Valley Regional Park costs for wardens to provide a litter clearance service. In general, my Department takes every available opportunity to liaise with other statutory authorities to encourage debris-free rivers, particularly where angling tourism is involved.
Does the Minister accept that rivers full of polythene bags and other household debris are not acceptable to either tourists or anglers? Will he endeavour, along with the other statutory agencies, to ensure that mechanisms are put in place so that rivers are cleaned on a regular basis, not on a very occasional basis?
Initially, I must point out that responsibility for removing debris from watercourses lies with the landowner concerned. The Department is involved only where it is the landowner — for example, through the Lagan Valley Regional Park, on the towpath alone. The Rivers Agency has powers to remove debris from designated watercourses, but not for visual reasons — only for flow streams. It is primarily for the Environment and Heritage Service of the Department of the Environment to take action against river pollution. One must always look to the landowner. He is responsible for the river that runs through his land. He is responsibile for the removal of debris.