The feasibility study update and economic appraisal that the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure commissioned in May 2001 on the possible reopening of the 12-mile lower Lagan navigation between Belfast and Sprucefield should be completed by the end of the month. The report will provide the Department with the basis for further discussion with the key partners, such as Lisburn Borough Council, Castlereagh Borough Council, Belfast City Council, the Laganside Corporation and the Environment and Heritage Service, to explore the scope for reopening the abandoned waterway.
I welcome the news that the report will come out at the end of the month. Can the Minister assure the House that he will seek funding to assist the local authorities in the reopening of the Lagan navigation? Will he support a measure to give the local authorities vesting powers in situations where it is difficult to release land?
It is important to stress that we are considering the Lagan navigation in two parts. I was referring to the lower Lagan navigation, not least because most of the land involved is owned by my Department and other public bodies. Much of the upper Lagan navigation — the Lough Neagh end — has been sold off since its abandonment in the 1950s. Therefore, it is easier and more cost-effective to begin with the section of the canal that is still in public ownership.
It would be difficult to argue the case for public funding for the entire investment. We must consider various ways of obtaining the funding and different approaches to the project. For example, there are 13 locks on the lower Lagan navigation canal alone. As a member of Lisburn Borough Council, Mr Poots will know how much it costs to refurbish one lock, let alone the whole canal. That will involve considerable investment. I will not give a figure for it because the figure that I was given originally has long since been superseded.