Strangford Lough And Lecale Partnership May Be Casualty Of The Cuts

As the screw turns and budgets are being cut across the board in an effort to balance the books in the NI Assembly, the  Strangford Lough and Lecale PArtnership is fearful that it may be a victim of the funancial cuts that will undoubtably take place.

In a response from the SLLP Advisory Committee to the Department of Finance and Personel on the 2015 -16 Draft Budget Proposals, a spokesperson said: “We agree with the DOE that their proposed budget for 2015/16 is not viable given the cuts to their overall budget.

[caption id="attachment_46536" align="alignleft" width="390"]The buiding of nine St Ayle's skiffs through Down Coastal Rowing partnered by the PSNI and a successful first rowing festival has been a success story linking communities around Strangford Lough. The buiding of nine St Ayle’s skiffs through Down Coastal Rowing partnered by the PSNI and a successful first rowing festival at Castle Ward  has been a success story linking communities around Strangford Lough.[/caption]

“We recommend that the cuts to DOE are brought proportionally in line with cuts to other Departments and that they are phased over a period of time to allow the DOE and its many partners to develop means of dealing with the new financial constraints.

“We draw specific attention to the fact that one of the major outcomes of the cuts to DOE will be severe cuts , up to 100% to AONB / Protected Area Management Partnerships and environmental NGO’s. DOE, to a large extent, is unique amongst the government departments, in that their statutory duties are delivered with the help of these partners.

“Protected Area Management Partnerships were established by, and are dependent on DOE core funding for their existence but that funding is now threatened. This has a number of implications for Northern Ireland.”

*  The loss of an extremely effective mechanism for levering funding into Northern Ireland, that is inaccessible to government. For example, SLLP alone levered £5 for every £1 spent by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency towards its core costs in 2014. This amounted to over £1/2m. Multiplied across the country it is clear that for this reason alone the budget cut proposals do not make sense.

*  Failing to fund the protection of our internationally important environmental assets puts NI at risk of EU infraction and fines – this is a reality given the precarious state of many of our priority habitats. Infraction fines could consist of a minimum lump sum of around £10m and daily fines for continuing non-compliance.

*  The loss of a mechanism created to build prosperity and social well-being while conserving the heritage that is at the heart of our tourism and outdoor recreation industries (valued at £500m). Once lost this mechanism will be hard to reconstruct as it has been built on long term relationships and complex partnerships. Strategic Area Plans, festivals, heritage trails, promotional materials, and other initiatives will be lost.

*  Job losses and a reduction in the capacity for employment across the country in our most deprived rural communities. The Partnerships are for the most part based in rural communities and there will be direct job losses in small towns. In addition, they will lose many strategic initiatives that bring revenue, skills training and employment capacity building to their locality. For example, SLLP is currently running a £30,000 EU funded heritage training programme aimed at fishing communities that would provide heritage communication skills and accredited qualifications for up to 30 people.

*  The loss of a huge network of volunteers and community supporters who currently help DOE achieve its targets and who are actively engaged in local economic and social well-being projects run by the Partnerships.

*  The loss of flexibility to work across departmental boundaries to provide a comprehensive project unlike many activities where government silos limit scope and involvement. This provides more cost-efficient multi-disciplinary working. All projects involve elements of education, health (both physical and mental), environment, recreation, economy, tourism, social involvement, agriculture etc.

*  The loss of a high degree of flexibility to respond to new developments, new sources of funding, environmental and social needs and changes.

*  The loss of a very effective public consultation and government advisory function. SLLP’s Advisory Committee alone represents 20 sectoral and local interest organisations providing a means for dialogue across farming, fishing, environmental, recreation and other interests.

*  Partnerships act as a “one stop shop” for local and sectoral interest concerns, especially with respect to environmental issues. Many queries and concerns are dealt with at source while other public questions are focused and filtered to appropriate government bodies thus saving them money on duplicate or frivolous questions.

*  A mechanism to work across local government boundaries (even post-RPA) to provide a cohesive and coherent approach to management of protected areas significantly reducing duplication of effort.

We believe that the proposed budget cuts within DOE will have far reaching implications that will ultimately cost Government more and will result in loss of an environment and heritage asset that will not be recoverable. This resource is not only nationally internationally significant in itself but is also of huge economic, social and health benefit , particularly in rural areas, many of which suffer economic and social deprivation.

Background: “For a relatively small investment by the Executive the non-governmental environment and heritage sector delivers key government objectives, leverages external funding and engages a passionate volunteer community Protected Area Management Partnerships are, for the most part, small lean operations that use their core funding to provide a small, highly skilled staff team who then very efficiently and effectively attract huge funds from the EU and elsewhere to finance activities that contribute towards meeting statutory responsibilities and benefit the environment and people.

“Cutting their budgets is not a question of tightening belts, it means staff redundancies, reducing their scope, and potentially ceasing their operation altogether. Re-establishing these functions, once lost, would be extremely difficult as they have been built up over time and depend on long term relationships and extensive networks, as well as complex partner relationships and agreement.

“Our rich heritage is deemed to be one of our greatest national assets and also has international recognition with biodiversity, historic and cultural significance. In addition, heritage tourism and outdoor recreation are important growth industries providing jobs, developing skills, generating revenue and improving health and well-being. Managing our heritage requires a long term, strategic approach – once lost it cannot be replaced.

“20% of Northern Ireland’s land area is AONB but NI already lags very significantly behind other parts of the UK in extent as well as security of resources for their care. These AONBs are magnets for tourism and they are at the heart of many local councils’ economic development plans.

“The pressure being applied to DOE to reduce its budget may incur more costs than it saves and could cause long term environmental, economic and social damage across the country without any significant gain.

“The SLLP Management Strategy and Action Plan is a locally endorsed, government supported scheme to manage the AONB and its associated SPA, SAC and ASSI areas. This Strategy and Action Plan has, for the first time, brought together activities across the many authorities and stakeholder groups involved in this area.

“The Strangford Lough and Lecale Partnership’s Advisory Committee represents 20 sectoral and local organisations working with statutory authorities to manage the heritage of Strangford and Lecale AONB and Strangford Lough Marine Conservation Zone.

“Without the Partnership, the buy-in and momentum for this work will disintegrate.

“SLLPAC strongly advises that DFP reconsider the inequitable cuts to DOE’s budget in the hope that this will ensure that AONB management partnerships and other key work is not jeopardised.”


STRANGFORD LOUGH AND LECALE PARTNERSHIP – advisory committee organisations 2011- 2014

Ards Borough Council Association of Strangford Lough Yacht Clubs Centre for Maritime Archaeology Down District Council East Down Rural Community Network – Community East Down Rural Community Network – Regeneration Historic Monuments Council Joint Council of Wildfowlers Marine Task Force National Trust NI Fed of Sub-Aqua Clubs Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers’ Association Northern Ireland Environment Link Northern Ireland Fish Producers Organisations Queen’s University Royal Yachting Association Sports Council for Northern Ireland Strangford Lough Fishermen’s Association Strangford Lough Tourism Destination Management Forum Ulster Farmers’ Union Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust