Kieran McCarthy was keen to find out what plans are in place for the future of the Exploris aquarium during today’s questions to the Minister of the Environment, Mark Durkan. The Minister has submitted an urgent procedure paper (and a follow-up paper) to the First minister and deputy First Minister but as of yet the business case has still not been discussed by the Executive. The Department has also made a bid for £900,000 of capital funding in the June Monitoring round. Mr Durkan is also “committed to funding all reasonable costs associated with the seal sanctuary up to a limit of £120,000 a year”. He recognises the value of Exploris to the local economy and as an educational facility and assured “that I have done and will continue to do all within my power to ensure that the capital investment required to keep Exploris open is forthcoming from the Executive”.
The Minister also discussed the planning policy on wind energy and the prospect of harmonising the policy on an all island basis. The Minister is supportive of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland working together saying it makes sense due to the shared strategic development issues. Mr Durkan acknowledges that wind energy development has been a controversial issue and has taken into consideration the public consultation on the single strategic planning policy statement and looks forward to the recommendations that may emerge from the ongoing Environment Committee inquiry into wind energy, hoping that it will help inform him on the best way to progress.
Mr Durkan also answered questions on the transfer of DRD functions to the new councils and Dereliction Intervention funding. During topical questions the Minister also answered questions on the Belfast metropolitan area plan, the relocation of planning service staff and the illegal dumping of tyres.