Northern nutters

I suppose this might be a Shinner ploy to annoy the DUP, but it is eloquent testimony to the pointlessness of the Northern Ireland Executive. It is unable to get its own act together, it can’t agree a budget — but one of its ministers thinks it should waste yet more of HMG’s money on yet another useless canal restoration proposal.

The Lagan Canal Trust is, it appears, funded by DCAL to enable it to draw up funding applications to DCAL ….

25 responses to “Northern nutters

  1. I don’t see what you’re making such a fuss about – the UK is the 5th (or 6th, depending how you measure these things) richest country in the entire world, £46 million quid is loose change.
    Engineering-wise, the route between Belfast and Lisburn is intact with no obstructions. All it needs is a little dredging and refurbish half a dozen locks (some of which have already been done) yet it’s been derelict since the 1950s.
    The towpath is used regularly by tens of thousands of people for recreation, the centre of a large regional park, and the existing amenity value is only going to be enhanced by having barges chugging by as well.
    Reopening the navigation is a tourism no-brainer, it should’ve been done years ago.
    I appreciate that spending billions turning what are now greenfield sites in the back of beyond back into canals again (step forward, Ulster Canal) is a somewhat more dubious proposition, but this is in the heart of the 2nd most densely populated bit on the island.

  2. I can quite see that persons with no brains might think that tourists would flock to hire boats on a short canal (or rather river navigation) in Northern Ireland, but nobody in their right minds would agree. Waterways in remote districts of HM Realm, such as the Forth & Clyde, the Huddersfield Narrow and the Lagan, do not attract significant numbers of private boats, never mind of hire boats; the same is true of canals in the Free State. The existence of walkers on the Lagan towpath is not evidence that there might exist a population of persons willing to invest in canalboats to traverse the same stretch of countryside.

    You may not have been keeping abreast of political developments. It is not evident that HM Government, or HM Viceroy, Ms Villiers, is greatly interested in spending more of HM money in HM Province.

    Of course if the worthies of the Lagan Canal Trust, and the employees of DCAL, were to carry out the work themselves, with their own money and their own shovels, I would have no objection, but I still would not expect there to be any tourist trade large enough to be visible to the naked eye.


  3. Well tourists do already visit Northern Ireland. I googled “Lagan Valley Regional Park visitor attendence” just there, and found plenty of literature and reports on the subject – Lagan Valley Regional Park appears to be comfortably the most visited park in Northern Ireland, with over 1 million visitors annually,
    The policy is to try and increase this number through a mixture of advertising and increasing the amenities themselves. Reopening the navigation is single most obvious way to increase the amenity value and can only have a positive effect on its attraction, even if it is a modest one. At the moment, the majority of visitors are walking along the towpath beside a clearly shabby and DERELICT navigation. A working one creates a better impression, even if the actual number of people chugging on the water is relatively small.

    Comparing this to the number of people who wish to visit some metropolis such as Longford via the Royal Canal is something of a red herring.
    There are not currently over a millon people flocking for days out in Longford every year, as it’s miles away, there’s nothing to see there anyways, and the visitor facilities consist of about one litterbin which is emptied on alternate Tuesdays.
    For all their faults, Belfast and Lisburn do have a little more to offer.

  4. Thomas Paul McCann

    It must be hard to justify any spending on Irish canals on a cost benefit basis.
    Still, Lisburn born and bred, I often cycled the Lagan canal from Lisburn to Stranmillis in my youth and thought it the most beautiful scenery. Made me almost proud to be from Northerm Ireland.

    I cycled it again recently and whilst a lot of its beauty is gone it is still most enjoyable

    My only regret is that I never ventured in the opposite direction towards Lough Neagh. Never knew that famous flight of locks existed until they were gone.

  5. Cycling along canals is an excellent plan. bjg

  6. Cycling along canals is often, in practice, a pain in the arse (if you’ll forgive my French) – canal towpaths are design to have the odd horse strolling up and down them, and have a width appropriate for that. Shunting hundreds of pedestrians and cyclists onto them together makes for a mess. Cyclists think they are “off road” so they want to go fast. Pedestrians are in the way.
    Canals (particularly at locks and bridges) may look innocuous but they can be quite dangerous things to fall head-over-heels into if you’re cycling full pelt on a towpath and come a cropper.

  7. Visitors to Lagan Valley Regional Park are not the same as tourists who visit Northern Ireland. You have not said what the number of unique visitors was and it would be nice if you could establish the number of unique visitors who were tourists. Having established that, and assessed their economic contribution, you could try to find out (a) how many of them came to Northern Ireland in order to visit the Lagan Valley Regional Park and (b) how many more would come to Northern Ireland if they were able to see some boats while doing so. That probably reduces the number to tourists from the Sahara and the Gobi Desert; it seems unlikely that the number of tourists would be greatly increased by the attraction of being able to look at some boats. And it seems even more unlikely that spending £46 million to attract two extra desert-dwelling tourists will prove to be a wise investment. bjg

  8. You will no doubt be pleased to learn that Waterways Ireland knows that, which is why it wants a proper surface on the Barrow trackway. It may be able to lend its expertise (for a suitable consideration, of course) to the Lagan Canal bods. bjg

  9. One of the reports I pulled off Google said something like 60% of regular visitors to Lagan Valley Regional Park were locals, and the rest tourists (that was a 2012 figure) (40% international tourists seemed surprising high to me, to be honest!)
    In any case, simply upping footfall, no matter where the punters come from, is good for local businesses. The infamous ‘Lock Keepers Cottage’ (how is Iris Robinson doing these days?) is quare rammed most days.
    The more amenity there is in the park, the more visitors, the more people can earn a living selling them lunch. It’s not exactly rocket science.
    The broadbeam ‘lighter’ barges are actually a pretty good candidate for running tourist tripboats, compared with pokey auld narrowboats, and the modest 10 mile length of that part of the navigation lends itself well to short trips. (I know it would take the best part of a day to do the whole thing, but there are excellent road and rail links along the way allowing people to get off midway.)

  10. You must be an arts graduate …. Spending £46 million to sell two more sandwiches a week is a bad idea. Costs and benefits must be compared and displacement effects must be allowed for. As for trip boats, I am not aware of any successful canal-based trip boat in Ireland. In Britain, volunteer-run boats may succeed but most others have a three-year (or so) life. bjg

  11. Chemist, actually ;)
    As I have said before on your pages, my experience of the Irish hire-boat industry was fairly lamentable compared to that in England and Wales. There were pretty much zero boater facilities (a water tap that didn’t work, and a litter bin), plus the Royal itself was impassible on the other side of a double lock due to a tree fall, with Waterways Ireland blissfully unaware until I rang them up.
    It’s hardly surprising that people prefer to take their canal boat holidays elsewhere.
    Ireland makes itself a laughing stock with this kind of thing. Ever tried getting to international UNESCO world heritage site the Giant’s Causeway by public transport, for instance? lmao

  12. Why does any of that make you think that a trip-boat on the Lagan would be a success? bjg

  13. I had a quick read through the re-opening plan – pie in the sky aspirations based on wishful thinking and like thon Sheugh, the primary benefits are from walking and cycling, neither of which require a navigable waterway.

  14. Well I never. What a surprise. bjg

  15. A trip boat in a region’s most popular park (one which already attracts over 100,000 visitors per annum) is just an added vistor attraction, like Alton Towers putting in a new rollercoaster, of Belfast Zoo getting some new pandas, or indeed a new vistor centre of the Giant’s Causeway. Doubtless you could scoff “why does the Giant’s Causeway need a new vistor centre, they already have lots of fancy shaped rocks, a sea view and a carpark) – but tourists expect rather more facilities these days.

    Running a trip boat on the centrepiece of the Lagan Valley Regional Park not the same as trying to establish a holiday hire boat industry on some remote rural canal in the arse-end of nowhere (step forward, Monaghan!), which would be much more of a challenge (one which I agree probably would not be met).

  16. This trip boat, though, is going to cost [price of boat] + £46 million, which seems like quite a lot. bjg

  17. It’s not though, really. It’s like the cost of a couple of new road junctions, or about 0.05% of what we spend on nuclear missiles each year.

  18. I’m sure that nice Mr Cameron will find your argument highly persuasive. bjg

  19. Well it’s hardly his personal decision. Google appears to be telling me that the new Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre cost £18½ million quid, which is in the same order of magnitude of spending to upgrade a tourist amenity. It reaps benefits over decades to come.
    You simply can’t expect tourists to visit from abroad and find the sole amount of facilities at a major attraction is a pot-holed car park, 3 litter bins and a Mr Whippy ice-cream van, with an Ulsterbus that comes every 47 minutes past the hour (but not on Sundays). That’s pathetic (and it’s Shaw’s Bridge as I type…). It might do for locals on a day out who drive 5 miles to get there. but not to people from Shanghai, Tokyo or Stockholm.

  20. What NI needs — apart from castles, beaches and even [alas] golf — is a tourist attraction in Belfast, drawing on its links to something everyone has heard of. Perhaps the Titanic?

    Nobody [well, bar a few waterways enthusiasts] is going to come to NI because it has a canal. They have them in Foreignlandia too, and much bigger and more interesting ones too. With really interesting vessels. [Northern] Irish Canals are not, and will not be, a tourist attraction. Anecdotal evidence suggests that even the Shannon–Erne Waterway’s traffic is down since Locaboat moved out.


  21. I don’t see why you’re being so obtuse about this. The more tourist attractions and amenities a city has, the more visitors it will attract. That’s why Rome and Venice get more visitors than Tralee and Wolverhampton.
    Belfast is not exactly very high on the list of world wonders, which is why everything it can add to its roster (like murals of murderers or famous boats that sank drowning thousands) all helps. 30 years ago the entire Lagan was a stinking polluted flow of industrial effulent and untreated sewage, fronted by derelict bombsites. Now it’s got salmon swimming it in and a major concert venue on the shore. All these things cost a fair whack of money to put in place and they all incrementally enhance its tourist potential. Reopening the navigation to Lisburn is just another in a long list, long may these improvement continue!

  22. It’s very simple. I refuse to believe that the return [the tax on the sale of two sandwiches to tourists from the Sahara] from an “investment” of £46 million represents the best return available on that amount, especially as HM Devolved Administration doesn’t have the money in the first place. If, of course, private citizens would like to raise and spend the £46 million themselves, that would be a different matter: they’d be wasting their money, but punishing misallocations of resources is one of the virtues if the capitalist system.

    Which is, no doubt, why politicians, rent-seekers and hobbyists dislike it. bjg

  23. If we followed your aspirations, the Lagan would still be an industrial sewer, and Northern Ireland’s main tourist attraction would be the departure lounge at Aldergrove.

  24. This correspondence must now cease. bjg

  25. Pingback: The DUP fightback | Irish waterways history

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