Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Time to fulfil lough’s glittering potential

Many people will be surprised to learn that Northern Ireland’s biggest waterway, Lough Neagh, is privately owned. It is part of the estate of the Earl of Shaftesbury but is now so beset with environmental problems that the Assembly is to explore the possibility of bringing it into public ownership.

Quite how the lough has been allowed to decline and who is responsible for that is not clear. What is evident is that co-ordinated action must be taken soon.

That raises the problem of its status. Public money, or even commercial investment, is highly unlikely to be diverted to the lough while it remains in private hands. And all the time the quality of the water and the amenity potential continues to fall. For, make no mistake, Lough Neagh, as one of the largest freshwater lakes in western Europe has huge untapped potential. One only has to consider the tourism revenue generated in the Lake District in England to see what could be developed on this side of the Irish Sea.

However that will take a co-ordinated approach and the creation of a masterplan for the lough. That is best done at government level which has the resources to clean up the water and to develop tourism facilities on and around the waterway. When watersports and water-based tourism is mentioned in Northern Ireland it is the Fermanagh Lakelands which are heralded as the prime location. Yet Lough Neagh provides an even larger water playground.

There has been much optimism about increasing the number of tourists coming to Northern Ireland and new visitor attractions such as Titanic Belfast or new facilities such as the Giant’s Causeway centre will help. Yet an amenity with perhaps the most potential in the province continues to be virtually ignored, or, at least, grossly under-developed. It is clear the current management of the lough is failing, so a new response and new model of management is required. And it should happen soon before the amenity deteriorates any further.

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