Lough Neagh: Future Management and Ownership

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 13 May 2024.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance 3:15, 13 May 2024

T2. Ms Bradshaw asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, further to his recent meeting with the Earl of Shaftesbury, for an update on the future management and ownership of Lough Neagh. (AQT 272/22-27)

Photo of Andrew Muir Andrew Muir Alliance

I thank the Member for her question. The future management and ownership of Lough Neagh is a long-term issue. The focus is on short- and medium-term interventions, which Patsy McGlone questioned me about recently. I welcome the recently announced engagement by the Lough Neagh Partnership on the Lough Neagh heritage resilience project. That has received £244,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Its envisaged completion date is November 2025. It is a two-year project, which will result in a 10-year plan. It will be open to public review and feedback, which will also include an economic appraisal and business plan.

Additionally, the programme will investigate the feasibility of acquiring and transferring ownership of the bed and soil to the public or community ownership. Whilst I await the outcome of that investigation, my preference, as Minister, is for community ownership of the lough. I have a strong desire to visit examples of where that has been achieved, such as Scotland's Isle of Ulva off Mull, where it was achieved in June 2018 following a community buyout. That should be actively explored.

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance

Thank you, Minister. You will be aware of concerns about the impact of sand extraction. What actions have you taken in response to those concerns?

Photo of Andrew Muir Andrew Muir Alliance

I thank the Member for her question. I am very aware of the concerns about the impact of sand extraction on Lough Neagh, and I recently I met officials about it. In response to that, I have asked for a scientific review to be undertaken on the impact of sand extraction on the environment. As Minister, I will be guided by the science and the evidence. It is important that we look at it from a scientific perspective.