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Councils link up in effort to turn tide on coastal erosion in Northern Ireland

By Noel McAdam

Published 15/01/2016

Signs of erosion at Magilligan Point
Signs of erosion at Magilligan Point

Coastal councils are combining to combat the problem of Northern Ireland's shrinking shoreline.

Some of the 11 recently-amalgamated local authorities are joining forces to set up a task force that will include Executive ministers. The first item on the agenda will be to pinpoint areas at highest risk from erosion - then work out both short-term and long-term strategies.

And they will indicate whether funding to help preserve the endangered coasts should come from Government coffers, council rates, or both.

The move came as Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt warned that responsibility for coastal erosion was being left to drift because it had not been assigned to a specific Stormont department.

As the Belfast Telegraph revealed last week, Mr Nesbitt, who chairs the Assembly committee that monitors the First Minister and Deputy First Ministers' office, said only existing responsibilities were being included in the coming reduction of Stormont departments from 12 to nine.

"At the moment responsibility is scattered," he added. "If it is a roads issue, that will be Regional Development; if it is rivers, that comes under DARD (Agriculture and Rural Development), and the Department of the Environment might be involved also.

"Nobody is in the lead, no one is taking a proactive stance, and there is no strategy."

Regional Development Minister Michelle McIlveen said the task force - set to meet next month - was a welcome move.

"It is difficult to set out a programme of work given that we are moving into a change of departments, but it is a good basis for moving forward," she said.

"There have been critics who feel that it has not gone far enough, but at least I am taking the initiative and being seen to do something." The councils involved include Ards and North Down; Causeway Coast and Glens; Mid and East Antrim, and Newry, Mourne and Down.

The councils would deny that the problem of erosion had been left in limbo.

Newry, Mourne and Down chief executive Liam Hannaway said it has been working with neighbouring authorities and the National Trust "to identify coastal erosion issues of particular concern".

"We intend to submit a joint funding application to the Atlantic Area Programme seeking financial assistance to support a local future action plan," he said. "The task force's goal will be to develop a strategy, and it will make short and long-term policy recommendations on coastal processes."

And the former Coleraine Borough Council, now part of Causeway Coast and Glens, had linked up with Ulster University's Centre for Coastal and Marine Research to conduct studies on the effects of coastal erosion.

The new super council told the Belfast Telegraph: "It is hoped to continue this research work at a local north coast level."

Areas where there are concerns of erosion include Magilligan Point, some greens at Royal Portrush Golf Club, and the north coast village of Portballintrae.

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