The fishing fleet of Ardglass received a welcome boost on Monday night when the Newry Mourne and Down District Council Economic regeneration and Tourism committee proposed to support the new group, Ardglass Harbour Developments in its bid to make important changes to the harbour infrastructure.
The Council’s Economic Regeneration and Tourism (ERT) committee which meets monthly met to consider providing support to the group and with a proposal from Councillor Glynn Hanna and seconded by Councillor Willie Clarke, a motion was passed to provide up to 25% funding for key consultancy studies to work towards creating a full business case for the key projects.
It was also agreed that the group contributes £10,000 and that the remaining 65% of the costs of the studies be meet with the FLAG grant which will open for bids in around March 2018.
To date, Newry Mourne and Down District Council has been working with the Kilkeel Social Partnership to develop its harbour and there was an understanding built into this agreement that this work has been carried out on the understanding that it does not cause serious adverse impacts on the Ardglass fishing port and the wider community.
Comgal Milligan, chairman of the Ardglass Harbour development Group said: “I welcome this council proposal and look forward to our business case being put into shape in the months and possibly years to come. Our port is in need of urgent infrastructural improvements and now is a good time to address this so that we can secure the future of businesses and jobs for our local community.”
Councillor Dermot Curran (SDLP) said after the meeting that he was delighted with this first major hurdle being overcome. “With this initial funding now recommended at committee level, once it is approved at full council, the group can start to work with Council and other agencies and shape up its plans for harbour improvements.
“There are key problems with the depth of parts of the harbour due to some of the herring and prawn boats just getting that bit bigger in recent years.
“And Ardglass too needs a repair facility so that the boat owners can slip their vessels for painting, inspection and repairs when necessary without having to go to Kilkeel and facing long waits and journeys. This is vital for the safety of the crews and the vessels themselves which take quite a battering in the harbour because of present berthing arrangements.
“We hope to find permanent solutions to these problems. We are working closely with the NI Fisheries and Harbour Authority on this. We would also like a harbour hub to provide some essential office space, some work space and a meeting room which can double as an education room for the fishermen and a hot desk area too for small and emerging businesses to use when needed. But the key project initially is the deepening of the harbour. Everything hangs on this.
“Ardglass too is the most deprived of the three fishing communities in County Down according to government statistics and is therefore more sensitive to adverse changes in the fishing industry.”
Councillor Glynn Hanna (DUP) proposed the Council recommendation and said: “I commend the members of the Ardglass Harbour Developments group and welcome this proposal to address the issues and opportunities for their local fishing port. The two ports of Ardglass and Kilkeel need to be working closely with each other going forward for the benefit of the wider fishing industry in Northern Ireland.
“I would like to see County Down get its share of good economic development and the ports will need to pull together.”
Councillor Willie Clarke (Sinn Fein) who seconded the proposal added that “I’m glad Ardglass is now addressing its key issues and is not left behind while Kilkeel has a development plan in place. I would like to congratulate the Ardglass Harbour Developments group for coming together to address the needs of the fishing industry and their wider community.
“Recently, there have been issues with some of the larger vessels berthing in Ardglass and this is now an opportunity to sort out this problem to benefit the industry and develop ancilliary businesses and create jobs in the longer-term”
Councillor Brian Quinn (SDLP) said: ” Maybe it’s time to develop a plan for all our fishing ports and sectors – our two ports in this Council area are in a unique geographic and industry position. There are small crabber boats too to consider and the mussel industry as well as the larger pelagic and prawn trawlers.”
This decision at the Council’s Economic Regeneration and Tourism committee will now be forwarded to a full council meeting in January for final approval.
The Ardglass Harbour Developments group is presently completing its first stage marketing plan of around 10,000 words by its members, and the support from the Council and other agencies will assist the group to provide technical studies of the harbour including a wave model test in a special tank in Belfast, moving to feasibility studies and a full business plan will need to be completed.
With the development of a new community plan for Ardglass village soon to be launched after being updated through a community consultation process, the Ardglass harbour development proposals will be an integral part of the economic future of this active and busy fishing community.
The group with Council assistance will be working with agencies such as Invest NI, The Department of the Environment, Department of Communities and a number of other key agencies including DAERA. Ultimately, it is hoped to secure a significant pot of funding possibly over £15 million to cover these projects and propel Ardglass and the County Down fishing industry into the 21st century.