Dr Andy Bridge was reacting to a withdrawal of the total Department of Infrastructure funding grant for this financial year, amounting to £42,000.
He said: “The Lagan Valley Regional Park has worked constructively with funding from the Department for Infrastructure for more than 20 years, sharing goals for access to nature, safe spaces and sustainable travel.
“This sudden loss of income will have severe implications for both Lagan Valley Regional Park and our other funding partners, namely Lisburn and Castlereagh Council and Belfast City Council.
“Given the park operates leanly with just 4.5 full time employees, and an overall budget of just under £210k, such an unplanned reduction of income will inevitably mean staff losses, and push the park below a critical mass of operational functionality. In short, it risks the collapse of the park.”
Lagan Valley Regional Park runs from Belfast to Lisburn along the river with the towpath at its centre. It is Northern Ireland’s only regional park and is a dedicated area of natural beauty.
It is the most visited outdoor attraction with more than 1.8 million visitors last year. The park is funded through a long-standing three-way partnership with Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council, Belfast City Council and DfI.
Jointly, these funds support the jobs of 4.5 members of staff, the work of 60 volunteers and the delivery of monitoring, maintenance and visitor engagement duties.
In a letter last month from the Department of Infrastructure to Lagan Valley Regional Park, Violeta Morosan of the Rivers Directorate wrote: “I am writing to inform you of the unfortunate news that funding for the LVRP work on the Lagan towpath from the Department for Infrastructure will not be available during the 2023-24 financial year.
“As you are aware, the current economic constraints have led to the difficult decision to implement budget cuts, impacting our department’s funding allocations. These cuts have resulted in a significant reduction in resource allocation for the current financial year.
“Regrettably, the discretionary spending of £42k to LVRP for the minor towpath maintenance work is directly affected by the unavailability of funding. As such, the Department will not be able to enter into an Operational Service Agreement with LVRP for this financial year 2023-24.
“It is planned that the Department’s Rivers Directorate area staff (Lisburn) will carry out the inspection and maintenance services on the Lagan towpath in the area previously looked after by LVRP.”
The Park replied to the Permanent Secretary of the Stormont department stating: “We would like to emphasise that withdrawing the expected £42,000 funding, during this current financial year, could signal the end of the current structures in place to manage Northern Irelands’ only regional park.
“We would strongly urge you to reconsider your decision to remove our funding. The unique partnership funding approach with the two councils enables our small team to offer a variety of services and expertise at extremely low cost.”