AT a conference attended by key political representatives from councils along the shoreline of Lough Neagh, the Lough Neagh Partnership presented a strategic report summarising more than 58 major projects which have been undertaken in the past five years with an investment of over £10.8 million.
Opening the conference, Conor Jordan, Chair of Lough Neagh Partnership, spoke of how it has succeeded in bringing investment and revenue streams into the area to the benefit of Lough Neagh and its communities.
He said: “The dedicated team at Lough Neagh Partnership have been tirelessly working for the past five years on built, cultural and natural heritage projects on and around the lough to improve the area for its local communities and visitors.
“They are to be commended on the success of the range of projects which have been completed over the past five years and I am enthused to see what the next five years has in store.”
Dr William Burke presented a reflective summary of the projects, which included litter removal schemes, major peatland and wetland restoration projects, archaeological digs and research, engagement with schools, research into World War Two airfields, creating community heritage gardens with a focus on health and wellbeing, the training and education of placement students, tourism projects, development of three tourism exhibition centres and the overall management and monitoring of the lough’s important habitats and species.
Dr William Burke said: “We are extremely proud to have delivered such a diverse range of projects from the grants and funding received and have been very grateful for the investment made into the Lough Neagh area. For every £1 invested, we have been able to bring an additional £6 into each council area. The projects have been essential in assisting the environment, supporting health and wellbeing for the local communities and driving economic development.”
Gerry Darby, Strategic Manager of the Lough Neagh Partnership, provided an overview of the past five years together with the present needs of Lough Neagh, such as the fact that it still does not have a navigation authority. Future objectives include continuing to bring investment to the lough and its shoreline, a focus on biodiversity, carbon and climate change, the need for a new Government interdepartmental management and navigation body for the lough.
He recognised the commitment of his team and the support of local councils, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in successfully delivering £10.8 million worth of projects in the past five years.
“Whilst it is important to recognise the value of the projects that we have delivered and the significant achievements of all those involved in their successful completion in the past five years, we cannot lose sight of the need for government buy in at the highest level in order for us to continue with our ambitious plans for the next five-10 years.”
Gerry concluded his presentation by setting out the future strategic aims for the Lough Neagh Partnership, by calling for a new Lough Neagh inter departmental/council management structure by 2022, a new navigation and management system for the lough and rivers by 2023, the beginnings of the development of the Ulster Canal on the Blackwater side by 2024, good carbon management of the peatlands by 2025 and the long term sustainability through the possible ownership of the lough’s bed and soil by 2026.
n For a copy of the report detailing the development and investment in the Lough Neagh area in the past five years please visit www.loughneaghpartnership.org