#CATJRF: Lough Neagh and the importance of timeliness in transferring assets…

Not much more than a curio at this stage, but Francie Molloy, Micheala Boyle and Oliver McMullan have laid down down Stormont’s equivalent of an early day motion (No Day Named Motion) addressed to two of their party colleagues in the Executive:

Establishment of a Working Group to Consider the Return of Lough Neagh into Public Ownership

That this Assembly calls on the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure and the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, to convene a working group to explore and pursue actively the potential for a cross-departmental approach to bring Lough Neagh back into public ownership.

The lough bed is currently in the private possession of the 12th Earl Of Shaftesbury… whose somewhat impoverished seat (it’s been unoccupied for sixty years) is in the Dorset village of Wimborne St Giles…

As Pete noted back in 2005, the current Earl’s grandfather had offered the rights to the Lough to the government, which for some reason it declined. As Pete then noted, “there is no guarantee that the next owner will be as generous”.

Quite. On the face of it, it makes sense to bring a facility that’s responsible for providing 40% of Northern Ireland’s drinking water into some form of common ownership. And with a hugely run down estate as well as a grade 1 building listed on the Heritage at Risk register, the 12th Earl may well be open to offers from the Northern Ireland Executive.

However it may not now be on the same generous terms as his father the 10th Earl offered just a few short years ago…


Maurice Kinkead on the importance of moving quickly and intelligently (from 7mins to the end):

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  • Drumlins Rock

    Maybe one of the big utiltiies companies could but it instead….

  • And to what purpose would money be spent to bring Lough Neagh back into public ownership? Is this how best to spend a reducing budget? What would be the public benefit? What would be the great leap forward? What would change?

    “On the face of it, it makes sense to bring a facility that’s responsible for providing 40% of Northern Ireland’s drinking water into some form of common ownership.” Why? How are we extracting water from the ‘lough bed’.

    Collectivist rhetorical fuzzball.

  • Mick Fealty

    “On the face of it”… It would help if we had the reasoning behind the Water Council’s original recommendations… and the government’s reasons for turning it down.

    The point is that assets (in general) vary in price and in the quality of the opportunity they offer. I’d think the first thing that working group would have to come up with would be a business plan, and some figures.

  • On the face of it the water supply will continue either way so what is the point? Why even bother?

  • Drumlins Rock

    one the face of it taking 40% of our water from one source is rather risky is it not? no matter what the ownership.

  • claudius

    Lough Neagh is a major source of sand for the local construction industry,. Would I be correct in assuming that the present Earl also owns these mineral rights? Would the transfer of ownership also include this.

  • Mick Fealty

    If they pay for it. There’s Salmon fishing too.

  • Mick Fealty

    Here’s another thought, and this the logic of some community asset transfer in reverse. Why do they need ownership? Is it critical to the business plan? What does its current private ownership prevent happening? Would it, for instance, prevent whole scale nitrate dumping?

  • The yokel

    Being a large body of water bordered by 5 counties, it is ideally placed as a water source. Stormont -DARD/DOE would be better spending their time preserving/improving water quality than buggering about with who owns the lough bed

  • Mick Fealty

    From wikipedia:

    “Lough Neagh was widely assumed to be owned by the state, but in 2005 it publicly emerged that it is the ancestral property of the Earl of Shaftesbury. This may have serious implications for planned changes to state-run domestic water services in Northern Ireland, as the lough supplies 40% of the region’s drinking water and is also used as a sewage outfall (in a system only permissible through British Crown immunity).[10]”

  • The yokel

    As far as I am aware the abstraction of water from any water body in NI is controlled by a licence issued by NI Environment Agency , as is the discharge of treated sewage effluent. NIW, the sewage undertaker lost crown immunity on its creation in 2007.

  • Someone is going to have to explain how ownership of the lough bed relates to either water extraction or salmon fishing, because that is not clear. Nor has anyone explained why the lough needs to be taken into public ownership beyond a rhetorical desire to wallow in collectivist cant.

  • Mick Fealty

    Well, quite.

    I suppose I was focusing on the fact that there are often windows of opportunity to take on assets. The old Carnegie library in Oldpark for instance, is unoccupied at the moment and therefore any prolonged delay in any putative transfer also racks up the cost not in acquisition but in restoring it to full functioning.

    As I understand it (though I’ve not seen the detail), the Earl doesn’t charge for the water extraction. But it is not clear whether he would be willing to let go of such a huge asset at at zero value when he has such pressing needs at home.

    It would be useful to know who holds the historic files of the NI Water Council just to fire in an FOI to see what basis they made the initial recommendation, not to mention find out why the tenth earl’s kind offer was refused.

  • claudius

    I think extraction from the lough bed is mentioned because that defines the physical asset much like saying taking water from the bowl. Salmon fishing is can be a revenue generator and again would be defined by the physical asset. I think?!?

  • Mick Fealty

    I spoke to Francie this afternoon, and he said he wasn’t so much thinking of salmon as taking on proper management of the whole water system and perhaps stocking it with other forms of fish and treating it like a managed resource. He says some parts have already been bought up by councils, notably Craigavon.

    It seems he has in mind a larger coalition of councils as well as his colleagues departments. I would have thought that DoE and DRD would have to have a call on it, with perhaps DFP taking a lead in making the decision.

    He also points out that the whole lough is pretty much a major silt bed which is often laid out in difficult to navigate channels, with the much work that could be done particularly where the rivers enter the main body of water….

    He seemed to think too that the algae would be easier to manage if it was in public hands, though I would have thought DARD and DOE had enough powers in hand to deal with that effectively without taking ownership…

  • The current earl is a new dad after marrying a German vet, suffered a terrible back injury a few years ago, used to be a techno DJ known as Nick AC, has philanthropic inclinations, some business credentials, is one of the richest UK citizens of his generation and his brother was murdered.

    I doubt he’s given Lough Neagh much thought, though he does sound quite interesting for an aristocrat.

  • changeisneeded

    And who did the Earl buy it from? WTF is an Earl. Can I go to uni to be one.

    Oh I just remembered we live in a place where some people are born “better” than others despite what we are taught as children..