Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland politicians at odds over reservoirs sell-off

By Linda Stewart

Northern Ireland was considering selling off some of its reservoirs four years ago – including Portavoe reservoir, which was then scheduled for sale in 2011-12.

The plans came in for criticism from Alliance councillor Andrew Muir, now North Down mayor, who said Government could not talk about wanting to protect and enhance the environment while washing its hands of NI Water's decision to sell off reservoirs.

More than 100 people attended a public meeting called by Mr Muir to discuss the proposed sell-off of seven reservoirs in North Down.

A Freedom of Information request revealed that one company was interested in buying Ballysallagh reservoirs to set up a hydroelectric power station.

After this meeting, six reservoirs in the Craigantlet area won a temporary reprieve but NI Water insisted the sale of Portavoe reservoir would go ahead.

North Down Borough Council joined with Ards Borough Council to set up a working group opposing the plans for the sell-off.

More recently it was revealed by the Belfast Telegraph that NI Water was considering disposing of 28 reservoirs across Northern Ireland – a proposal which won the backing of the Executive.

Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy, who approved the decision, said disposal could involve placing the reservoirs on the open market.

In some cases the reservoirs were being let go because it would take substantial investment to ensure they complied with increasingly stringent drinking water regulations.

Others had become less reliable with age because water supplies could be interrupted. In some areas alternative sources had to be found because of increasing populations.

NI Water, which is currently listing 24 reservoirs for sale on its website, said the use to which they could be put would be subject to the usual planning rules.

But one potential use might be leisure purposes, such as fishing or boating.

Among those reservoirs are Knockbracken impounding reservoir in Carryduff, Lough Cowey in Portaferry, and Lough Money in Downpatrick.

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