Belfast Telegraph

Plastic bag levy 'could offset grants cuts': Mark H Durkan

By Linda Stewart

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has said the plastic bag levy could provide some financial relief to environmental groups hit by huge cuts.

Around 50 charities, including the National Trust, face an uncertain future after the Department of the Environment axed its Natural Heritage Grants scheme.

Ulster Wildlife and Belfast Hills Partnership will lose their grant aid entirely, while a number of smaller groups are understood to be facing closure. After meeting environmental charities yesterday, Environment Committee chair Anna Lo said groups are concerned the entire sector will be wiped out.

But Mr Durkan told the committee that if his department is able to achieve 400 voluntary job redundancies, it could free up as much as £5m a year.

He said he wants talks with environmental groups soon to see how the £800,000 NI Challenge Fund, paid for with the plastic bag levy, could be used to protect the environment.

Mr Durkan said Northern Ireland could face huge infraction fines from Europe if it doesn't meet its environmental responsibilities and he wanted to work with groups to identify priorities.

"We have to see what they are, where they are, where they are most real, where they are most imminent and where we can fend those off," he said.

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