Minister applauds ‘Future Search’ Conference initiative exploring community ownership model for Lough Neagh.
Development Trusts NI (DTNI) today, 2 March 2016, welcomed the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD), Michelle O’Neill MLA, to close a three day ‘Future Search’ Conference which was designed to explore the potential of a community ownership model for Lough Neagh. This important event, which was held in Toome, close to the shore of the Lough, was attended by local community interests, both central and local government agency representatives, private sector stakeholders and environmental organisations who are interested in conservation and the preservation of the wildlife which the Lough supports.
In September 2015, DTNI, who work to empower communities through assisting them to explore community ownership models and asset based development, was tasked by the Minister to investigate both the local interest and the feasibility of a community led ownership model for the Lough. Since then, the regional support organisation has been working with all of the key stakeholders to establish if a local ownership model could provide a platform for the sustainable development of the Lough in a manner which would benefit those who use, live or are based around the Lough.
As part of the work DTNI facilitated four Community Consultation events attended by over 200 stakeholders from the areas around Lough Neagh before Christmas. The Conference has been led by renowned American practitioner and co-developer of the Future Search methodology – Sandra Janoff, and former Northern Ireland Permanent Secretary, Aideen McGinley. Working with 64 local stakeholders since Monday, the meeting of diverse interests associated with Lough Neagh has scoped the needs and aspirations of all the sectors and stakeholders around the Lough.
Commenting on the success of the ‘Future Search’ Conference, Chair of Development Trusts NI, Nigel Kinnaird, said;
“Lough Neagh is important to us all, it has a huge community of users, and many see it as an underdeveloped asset. To date our engagement has been very positive, with a series of meetings, and consultation events being held locally in and around the Lough. This week’s Future Search Conference attended by 64 key local influencers all of whom have a stake in Lough Neagh, has provided the community with an opportunity to examine the potential a future vision for the Lough. We continue to encourage those who reside, work, engage with or are passionate about the Lough to be part of our work on this.”
Closing the Conference, the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Michelle O’Neill, MLA added:
“Despite the potentially competing interests involved in and around Lough Neagh I am delighted that a shared vision for a community led future operation and management of the Lough has been agreed.
“One of my priorities as Minister has been support for development of the Lough which will present real opportunities for rural tourism and economic progress not only for those communities which are directly adjacent to the Lough but throughout the North.”
The Community Ownership approach being considered for Lough Neagh has been applied successfully elsewhere. In Scotland, for example, a number of large privately owned estates have been successfully transferred into community ownership and are now being managed sustainably by local people for the benefit of local people. Economic, social and environmental benefits for local communities have followed.