I am shocked to learn that Northern Ireland Water plan to sell a significant portion of the Cairn Wood Forest to the highest bidder with future public access now in doubt.
With woodland cover in Northern Ireland the lowest of any European country (with the exception of Iceland) at 6% we need to be increasing our woodland cover to meet 12% target in 2050 not selling forests to private purchasers. Retaining our forests, and public access arrangements is of paramount importance due to the social, economic and environmental benefits that arise with Cairn Wood an habitat haven enjoyed by many people on a regular basis.
From a previous Freedom of Information request, I was thankfully able to ascertain that the Forests adjoining Ballysallagh Upper Reservoir are operated under a 150 year lease with the Forest Service. Signed in 1964 by Bangor Borough Council, the actions of Northern Ireland Water run contrary to the commitments given by the previous owner (Bangor Borough Council) and are a concerning development. I am appalled that NI Water have decided to embark upon this course of action which is a gross breach of trust after being transferred ownership in the 1970s. NI Water could, however, have overlooked this commitment and if, so, need to apologise and withdraw the land for sale forthwith.
I have written to both the Agriculture and Regional Development Ministers requesting decision to sell this woodland is reversed and hope an urgent reply will be received.
If not, I will again ask the Council to consider exploring opportunities to save the land from falling into private ownership. My original proposal to Ards and North Down Borough Council that a scoping exercise be undertaken via means of an Economic Appraisal, when offered these Reservoirs for sale would have helped identify this issue and explore way to save valuable woodland but sadly it was rejected with expression of interest given for merely two of the reservoirs offered.