The topical subject of cycling safety (given the success of the Giro d’Italia which took place in Northern Ireland over the preceding weekend) was broached during today’s questions to the Minister of the Environment, Mark Durkan. Samuel Gardiner expressed his concern about the increase in cyclist road deaths in the last ten years, asking the Minister if he would consider introducing mandatory cycling proficiency tests. Mr Durkan was keen to impress that the increase in deaths should be viewed in the context of the increase in the number of cyclists over the last ten years. He also pointed out that the number of deaths in 2013 decreased from the number in 2012. He also highlighted the recent cycling safety campaigns and the cycling proficiency schemes available at schools, saying that, given these current measures and the potential costs, ”there is, at this stage, no clear evidence to suggest that such a regime (mandatory proficiency tests) would address the problems in an effective way”.
Sandra Overend also asked the Minister about the costs that will fall on local councils as a consequence of the local government reform programme, fearing that they will be passed on to rate payers as councils struggle to cover them. The Minister acknowledged the member’s concerns and urged Councils to consider the impact on ratepayers of the decisions they make. He also pointed out that the reform of local government will yield huge savings for councils and, as such, “it is only fair that local government should contribute to the cost of reform”. The Minister also highlighted an agreement he has reached with the Minister of Finance and Personnel and the Treasury that will make it easier for councils to borrow money to help cover the costs.
During Question Time the Minister also updated the House on the latest developments regarding the Local Government Bill and on the impact of wind farms on areas of outstanding natural beauty. During the topical question period the Minister answered questions on the HGV levy, new planning powers for councils and the dereliction funding scheme.