Community moves a step closer to taking over Lough Neagh

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Ambitious plans to return one of the North’s last great wild places to the local community have moved a step closer.

A development trust board charged with overseeing the takeover of Lough Neagh, the largest freshwater lake in the UK, has had its first meeting following an extensive consultation process with the public.

Minister for the Department of Agriculture, Michelle McIlveen has said she intends to now meet with the board to discuss how to assist its proposals.

The bed of the freshwater lake is currently owned by the Shaftesbury estate which is based in England.

The main priority for the new board, which includes former civil rights campaigner and Mid Ulster MP Bernadette McAliskey, is to purchase the lough bed in the coming years.

The current Earl of Shaftesbury, Nicholas Ashley Cooper, is said to have been supportive of the process to date.

Interim board member Kate Clifford said the “ambition of this is to put the ownership of this into the hands of the people who have the biggest interest”.

She said the board will “have to be imaginative” in how it raises cash to finance the purchase of the lough bed but the setting up of the trust is a “starting point from which to build”.

Minister McIlveen said: “The Board held its inaugural meeting on 17 June and I hope to meet with members shortly to discuss how best to build on the consultation and stakeholder engagement process that has already taken place.”

She added that a community led approach was the best option for the future management of Lough Neagh.