New Lough Neagh Partnership Strategy Aims to Sustainably Develop Lough Neagh
A new five-year review for the Lough Neagh area seeks to boost business, navigation, and conservation opportunities through attracting new significant investment from funding opportunities such as the Levelling Up Fund, the Green Growth Strategy, the SEUPB Peace Plus Fund and the Shared Island Fund.
Lough Neagh Partnership’s Strategic Plan for 2023-2028 lays bare the challenges and opportunities.
A comprehensive independent Strategic Review for the Lough Neagh area, commissioned by Lough Neagh Partnership, has outlined significant opportunities for investment in and around what is the largest freshwater Lough in the UK and Ireland.
The Review and Plan for 2023-2028 proposes ways to sustainably develop and manage the biggest natural water resources in Northern Ireland. To do this, the Lough Neagh Partnership has recommended key areas of improvement including the launch of a new structural body — the Lough Neagh Management Body — which will include representatives from the three main councils surrounding the Lough as well as the Department for Infrastructure, DAERA, Department for Communities and the Department of Finance. This will provide a new interdepartmental structure for the Lough and allow Government to become more actively involved in the Lough’s management.
It has also recommended developing cross-border links with the border counties to help develop recreational tourism on the Blackwater river, provide a new dredger on Lough Neagh to help open up the navigable rivers and improve navigation marker systems, and examine new economic opportunities including the acquisition of the bed and soil of Lough Neagh which is owned by Shaftesbury Estates.
The Lough Neagh Partnership was formed in 2003 to administer grant funding of £3.5m under the Rural Development Programme and manage and market and develop opportunities in the area. It presently has eight staff that delivered and continue to deliver a wide range of projects, which have attracted more than £10m investment over the last five years. However, it has more work to do if Northern Ireland is to capitalise on one of its biggest natural resources.
The Lough is also of significant value to the Northern Ireland environment and ecosystems. It is the biggest ASSI and Special Protected Area site in Northern Ireland and is a wildlife haven for a variety of birds and animals including the whooper swan and a variety of diving ducks that come from as far away as Iceland and the Russian Arctic to feed in and around its shores. However, there are huge pressures on some wildlife including the iconic Curlew which is near extinction on the Lough and the loss of important habitats such as peatlands, wet grassland and wet woodlands has accelerated, not lessened. There is therefore a need to set up new partnerships and programmes to help protect important species and habitats and access new funding streams from the programmes such as the SEUPB Peace Plus fund.
Speaking about the new Strategy, Gerry Darby, the Manager of Lough Neagh Partnership, said: “Lough Neagh is a real asset to Northern Ireland, this new five-year strategy seeks to help seize this untapped potential to provide a more sustainable management and development approach to the Lough. We know times are hard and the economy is struggling with inflation and the after effects of Covid but there are also strong opportunities out there to be grasped and this strategy provides a route path to address historic needs and create new green growth opportunities for the people of Lough Neagh and the people of Northern Ireland.”