Portavo Reservoir: Update (7 September 2020)

Monday 7th September 2020

Portavo Reservoir: Update (7 September 2020)

In 2014 Portavo Reservoir was in the ownership of Northern Ireland Water (NIW) and was advertised for sale under the D1 process when it became surplus to requirements.  North Down Borough Council (NDBC) expressed an interest in acquiring the land, subject to the outcome of an economic appraisal of its development potential. According to NIW, in 2014 the successor in title of one of the landowners, from whom the reservoir site had been acquired in the 1930’s, issued legal proceedings against NIW in the High Court. As a result, the sale to the Council could not be progressed.

NIW has indicated that, in January 2017, the High Court ruled that NIW was obliged to offer the successors in title of the original landowners “first refusal” of the reservoir.  The Council subsequently began an evidence gathering exercise as to the public use of the pathway and seven evidence forms were submitted by members of the public between November 2017 and October 2018 .

In June 2018 Ards and North Down Borough Council approached NI Water about the possibility of them agreeing to a Public Path Creation Agreement (PPCA) but NIW was unable to give consent. NIW has informed the Council that this was because of the High Court Order.

In September 2018 the Council wrote to the prospective buyers to ask if they would be willing to keep the alleged right of way open but none of them agreed.  In June 2019 Council reviewed the situation and concluded that there needed to be a stronger case before any assertion could be undertaken.  In March 2020 it was noted that to date, no further evidence or information had come forward.

In early June 2020 Council officers received queries from members of the public, from several councillors and two MLAs that new gates and fences had been erected and were restricting public access to the reservoir pathways. Officers immediately made enquiries with NIW who confirmed that, at that exact time, the sale had not been completed and they were making enquiries as to who had trespassed on the land and erected the fences and gates.  At the same time, a petition was submitted containing 850** emails of signature asking the Council to establish a Right of Way.  It was made clear to the petition organiser that a petition could not be considered on its own merit as, under the legislation, evidence forms were required to investigate an alleged PROW.  The Council has now received a further 11 evidence forms from the public, making a total of 18 forms received.

NIW completed the sale of the reservoir on 11 June 2020, in compliance with the High Court Order. Registration of title is pending.  Once the names of the purchasers are in the public domain the Council intends to write to the new owners again asking for their support to establish a Public Right of Way (PROW) or Public Path Creation Agreement (PPCA). 


**Edit: a typo in the original text above stated that there were 50 emails of signature. This has been amended to the correct number of 850 emails of signature on the petition.