Minister of the Environment, Mark Durkan, outlined the actions he will be taking to increase road safety and address the rising numbers of fatalities and serious injuries on local roads during today’s Question Time. Mr Durkan described the number of road deaths in 2015 as “a serious concern”. So far 61 people have died, compared to 69 at the same stage last year. Despite challenging budget cuts the Minister was able to allocate just over £1 million to road safety communications, grants and educational materials. Despite the regrettable 50% reduction in the road safety budget, the Department continues to take a range of actions to reduce deaths and serious injuries on our roads focussing on key problem areas such as such as drink-driving, speeding, carelessness and inattention and on groups that are over-represented in the casualty figures. These areas are the key focus of the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill currently making its way through the Assembly. Mr Durkan assured that he remains “fully committed to continuing to work with my Executive colleagues, the PSNI and other stakeholders to improve road safety and reduce casualties.”
The Minister then announced a new environment fund that will cover two years (with the possibility of a third) in response to fears that funding may no longer be available after the current cycle of the natural environment fund ends in 2016. Funding will be allocated for the next financial year, 2016-17, with the potential for funding in future years subject to future Budget decisions made by the Executive and Assembly. The Minister described the role of the new fund saying it “will cover the delivery of a wider range of key environmental outcomes under two broad themes: ensuring good habitat quality, landscape and species abundance and diversity; and the promotion of health, well-being, resource efficiency and sustainable economic development, realising the full value of our environment” adding that, “It will provide a more comprehensive, transparent and consistent funding mechanism by which the majority of environmental outcomes can be delivered by third parties under grant aid.”
During Question Time the Minister also fielded queries on planning applications, the cost of local government reform, wind farms, licensing of bonfires and the code of conduct for councillors.