UK’s Largest Lake May Shift from Free Resource to Private Ownership

April 28, 2005

The death of an earl in the south of France may have financial repercussions for water consumers in Northern Ireland.

Lough Neagh is the biggest freshwater lake in the UK and is the source of 40 percent of Northern Ireland’s drinking water. The lake’s owner, Lord Shaftesbury, allowed water to be extracted from it as a free resource.

French police had been looking for Lord Shaftesbury since he disappeared there last year. The body of Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 66, was found last week in the hills between Cannes and Nice.

In Northern Ireland, for the past two years, the government's own advisory group, the Water Council, has been urging it to buy Lough Neagh from its Lord Shaftesbury – to keep it in public control.

Using the Environmental Information Regulations Act 2004, the BBC obtained documents that show a reluctance by government to take ownership of the lough.

In a series of letters, they told the council that there was sufficient legal protection for water supplies already in place.

But the council has been concerned all along that if the lough was to be bought by a private owner, the public would end up paying more for its water.

Next year, Northern Ireland consumers will start to pay for their water by way of specific charges, already set to be some of the highest in the UK.

Any new charges would also be passed on, including extra charges for Lough Neagh, if they are added by a private owner.

Source: BBC News