Question Time: Environment Monday 23 September 2013

Mark Durkan faced his first Question Time since taking over office from Alex Attwood. During topical questions, Anna Lo took the opportunity to press the new Minister on the future of Exploris in Portaferry, Northern Ireland's only aquarium. Mr Durkan felt that, as a final decision on the sealife centre is not expected until Wednesday night (25 September 2013), it would be inappropriate to comment just yet. He did however acknowledge the importance of the aquarium to the local economy and suggested that the Department of Education may also be able to intervene given how important Exploris has proved as a venue for school visits.

The subject of wind farms and turbines proved to be the main focus during the regular Oral Questions. Amidst the concern from other Members on the damage that the farms would do to the landscape of areas of outstanding natural beauty, the Minister assured the Chamber that while the department is supportive of renewable energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, "we do not want areas completely destroyed by a proliferation of wind turbines and wind farms".

Mr Durkan was also quizzed on the possibility of a National Park in Northern Ireland. The Minister was non-committal but not opposed to the idea, stressing that a national park should not be imposed on any area where it was not welcome but "it is important that we work with all stakeholders to maximise the benefits of our natural and built heritage" and with it, our tourism product.

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