£46m Belfast to Lisburn canal plan barges ahead
Disused Belfast to Lisburn waterway moves step closer to being reopened
A £46million plan to reopen the historic canal from Belfast to Lisburn has cast off at last - after years of being left high and dry.
Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin has passed an outline scheme to Finance Minister Arlene Foster for approval, involving £46.3m over seven years.
It is the first phase of proposals by the Lagan Canal Trust which wants to relaunch the 27 miles of potentially navigable waterway between Belfast and Lough Neagh.
Despite the current swathe of spending cuts, the Sinn Fein minister said she would make a formal bid for funding after Mrs Foster's department reaches its conclusions on the 'business case' for the project.
In a written Assembly answer, she said: "A Strategic Outline Business Case has recently been forwarded to the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) for consideration and potential funding for Phase 1 of the project - the reopening of the navigation from Belfast to Union locks, Lisburn, at a cost of £46.3m over seven years.
"When the Business Case is approved by DFP, I will submit a bid for funding as is the normal process."
The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure has provided core funding to the Trust from 2009 when it was first established as a registered charity.
The Trust also includes three councils - Belfast, Lisburn/Castlereagh, and the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon authority, as well as the NI Environment Agency as partners.
It said: "(We) are custodians of the 300-year-old waterway - a living and working heritage - and we do this with sustainability in mind to ensure that our outstanding national asset is well kept for future generations to enjoy."
A report by the Trust three years ago warned there was no strategic policy for inland waterways in Northern Ireland, despite the cross-border body Waterways Ireland.
"A major risk to developing the Reopening Plan is the policy vacuum in the Northern Ireland Executive," the report said.
"In order that the Trust can plan for success it will be necessary for all the departments with liability and responsibility for the navigation - Culture, Arts and Leisure, Social Development, the Environment, Agriculture and Rural Development, and Education Trade and Industry - to come together to integrate their policies."
As well as the 46-mile Ulster Canal from Armagh to Lough Erne, the Upper Bann, Newry and Coalisland Canals were abandoned in the 1950s when they failed to compete with goods transported by rail and road.