Environment Minister, Mark Durkan, took his place in the chamber for today’s Question Time. Barry McElduff asked the Minister to clarify his rationale on the 12 month period required for learner drivers to hold a provisional license before they can take their driving test. The Minister explained that it is one of the measures of the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill that “has been designed to provide new drivers with experience and skills, over time, in lower-risk environments” adding that “the rationale of this period is to encourage provisional licence holders to focus on learning to drive and not simply passing the practical driving test”. The concern originates from the disproportionately high number of Restricted drivers involved in traffic accidents. Mr McElduff countered that this is perhaps unfair on drivers who already possess a greater driving ability such as young people from a farming background. Mr Durkan conceded that the input of organisations and groups is a vital part of the Committee Stage of the Bill and all evidence will be considered.
Mickey Brady expressed his concern about the introduction of the Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) Road Users Levy in April 2014 and the impact that it will have on the north/south economy, particularly on cross-border routes. Mr Durkan explained that the levy was introduced by the UK Government in line with EU rules on road user charging but shares the concerns of Mr Brady. As such the Minister “secured from Minister Robert Goodwill in the Department for Transport a commitment that this would be monitored. If we, Mr Brady or the hauliers themselves are able to provide evidence of any detrimental impact being caused to business by this levy, the enforcement and implementation of the levy here in the North could be reviewed.”
During the period for topical questions the Minister answered further queries on built heritage, DVA staff and flooding compensation payments in South Belfast.