History is made as boats return to the Lagan at Lisburn
The historic moment came as Lisburn Borough Council completed another chapter in its work to carry out a regeneration of its section of the Lagan.
The Council has reopened the Island Canal and restored Lock 12 to enable boats to return to the river and make Lagan Valley Island a true island in every sense of the word.
These are just some of the many initiatives being undertaken by the Council to encourage environmental, tourism and economic development along the Lagan.
The work also comes ahead of the 2001 World Canals Conference which will be held in Lagan Valley Island next week.
Over 250 international delegates will attend the conference, the first time it has been held in Ireland, and will see first hand the regeneration work going on in Lisburn.
Councillor William Beattie, the chairman of the council's Lagan Corridor Project team, said he was proud of the progress the team had made.
He said the Lagan was now an asset which could be used for activities like walking, cycling and boating.
"The Lagan is our most valuable natural asset. As such the Council has invested a considerable amount of ratepayers' hard-earned cash on the re-opening of the Island Canal and the restoration of the locks to facilitate the use of the canal by pleasure craft," he explained.
Partnerships between the Council and other bodies have played an integral role in the river's regeneration. "Work has already been completed in clearing and tidying up the riverside area alongside Queens Road and Millbrook.
"Volunteers from Voluntary Services in Lisburn have been working with the Council to improve pathways, seating and access to the river. Despite the continuing work, Mr. Beattie emphasised that there were many objectives still to be realised before the regeneration of the Lagan was complete.
A 'strategic restoration' scheme would eventually allow boats to get all the way to Lough Neagh and Mr. Beattie said both Belfast and Castlereagh Councils had to work alongside Lisburn to make that dream a reality. He also warned now was the time to take action against people who continued to dump litter in the river.
"Attention must be given to the unacceptable problem of throwing litter and of dumping domestic rubbish in the Lagan and the Lagan Valley Regional Park," he stressed. "Bye laws need to be implemented and the public must act as watchdogs for the river and park, reporting offences to all three council authorities."
Mr. Beattie now hopes the next lock upstream at Becky Hoggs' should be restored in order to control the level of the river upstream at Moore's Bridge, thus making it navigable past the locks at Sprucefield.
He also praised the 'effort and support' of VSL, Lisburn Challenge, The Rivers Agency, the Lagan Valley Regional Park committee and community groups who had participated in the clean-up of Lisburn's Lagan.
Lagan Corridor Programme manager Linda Crymble underlined how the Council had been attempting to improve what she admitted was an `undervalued' part of the borough.
"For many years the River Lagan has been a much undervalued asset in our borough. We aim to change all that and we will be doing our best to give our world visitors a taste when we hold the World Canals Conference," she said.