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Lough groups get a year’s reprieve

By Linda Stewart

Environment Minister Edwin Poots has granted a temporary reprieve to the body that manages the largest lake in the British Isles.

The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) had come under fire last month after pulling the plug on the Lough Neagh and Lower Bann Advisory Committees, which have been responsible for drawing down millions in funding for tourism projects in the areas, including hotel and jetty developments and the creation of canoe trails.

At the time, Stormont Environment Committee chair Dolores Kelly described it as a “bolt from the blue” and committee member John Dallat warned it would threaten years of work aimed at transforming the Lough Neagh and Lower Bann systems into the “Shannon of the North”.

The committees were told by NIEA in November they would be losing their Government funding after three of the nine councils that contributed a share refused to renew it, citing concerns over duplication of work.

The budget for the two bodies comes to £119,000 a year, made up of contributions of £37,000 from NIEA and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, as well as the £5,000 from each of the nine councils.

Last night, Mr Poots told the Assembly that NIEA would renew its funding for an interim year, provided all the councils continue to pay their share.

Mrs Kelly welcomed the news, saying it is the councils that benefit as their areas profit from the money drawn down from the EU.

She said it was good news and, over the next few weeks, the committees will be looking at ways to reduce their budgets.

She added: “One way could be to come into one body and cut their overheads, like sharing office space with another organisation.

“The onus is now on them to follow through.

“This development will ensure that any development opportunities are maximised.”

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