How is Environment Minister Mark Durkan using income from the carrier bag levy to benefit environmental projects? One of the questions posed to the Minister during today’s period of Question Time. Due to the number of budget cuts placed on his Department, Mr Durkan is “determined to ensure that the carrier bag levy moneys are used to best effect.” The net income from the levy in 2015-2016 is expected to be around £4.2m, £2.15m of which has already been allocated for environmental grants and schemes. This includes £0.52 million for the natural heritage grant programme, £0.6 million for a community waste fund and £0.3 million for local clean-up and air-quality grants. The Minister also organised a workshop at Crawfordsburn Country Park in April, attended by a number of non-governmental organisations, to discuss how best to use the remaining resources. As a result a new natural environment fund will be established and open to applications from the start of May. Finally, the Minister has also set aside a portion of the levy income for a new challenge fund targeted at schools and community schemes and for the listed building grant scheme.
The Minister also discussed measures being taken to improve road safety for cyclists. Mr Durkan declared that “the road safety strategy recognises cyclists as a vulnerable road user group and includes a range of actions that relate to cyclist safety.” A new cyclist safety television campaign was launched in April 2014 with a core message for road users to respect everyone’s journey. An accompanying online campaign is available on NI Direct including explanations of the scenarios in the adverts and further advice for drivers and cyclists. As well as the awareness campaigns, an enhanced version of the cycling proficiency scheme has been made available to primary schools and a social media campaign was launched in anticipation of the Belfast bike scheme.
The Minister also answered questions on DOE applicants to the Voluntary Exit Scheme, high hedge legislation, planning applications, the natural environment fund and funding for non-governmental organisations.