Question Time: Environment Monday 11 November 2013

Oliver McMullan asked Minister of the Environment, Mark Durkan, about fears surrounding the proposed single tier licensing system for taxis during today’s topical questions. The proposed changes mean that all taxis can be hailed on the street and do not need to be pre-booked with the intention of providing the public with a cheaper and safer taxi service. Black taxi drivers see this as a threat to their livelihood. The Minister assured the Member that the one year delay in bringing in the legislation is “in order to give the industry and those within it time to prepare for the implementation so that its impact will be less onerous on operators and drivers, and it will be more affordable for them”.

Sammy Wilson then asked the Minister if he planned to introduce a Climate Change Bill first mooted by his predecessor, Alex Attwood. Mr Durkan revealed that he is currently more in favour of a climate change strategy, looking to work with businesses to reduce greenhouse gas and carbon emmissions.

During the scheduled oral questions, Kieran McCarthy asked the Minister what discussions he has had with Ards Borough Council in regards to supporting the Exploris aquarium and helping to save it from closure. Mr Durkan revealed that, after discussions with Friends of Exploris and the Council, he is open to the idea of providing a one-off capital grant if he is given assistance from his Ministerial colleagues and dependent on the Council committing to the long term future of Exploris and producing a satisfactory business case justifying the public expenditure involved. He was even more enthusiastic about the idea of maintaining a seal sanctuary saying that, regardless of the success of the business case, his Department “will fund a seal sanctuary, whether that be in Exploris or elsewhere”.

The Minister also provided an update on the recycling targets set for local councils. As yet local councils are not set any recycling targets but the Department is looking into a recycling Bill which should include recycling targets of 60% for local councils by 2020. The recently published waste management strategy ‘Delivering Resource Efficiency’, the Department’s ‘Rethink Waste’ programme and the emphasis on Eco-Schools should ensure that these targets remain realistic.

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