Stormont to fly green flag ... but there's no need for Richard Haass – this one's for the park
Another flag is about to go up at Stormont – but this time it's a cause for celebration rather than controversy.
The Stormont estate is one of 35 parks and green spaces across Northern Ireland receiving a Green Flag award for exceeding tough environmental standards.
Each has been presented with a prestigious Green Flag, which is the mark of quality green space. It could now fly alongside the Union flag – which last year became a focus of talks chaired by US diplomat Richard Haass.
This year there has been a 57% rise in parks, cemeteries and green spaces meeting the internationally recognised standards demanded by the Green Flag award. First-time winners this year include the Stormont estate, Ness Country Park, Kiltonga Nature Reserve, Dungannon Park, Slieve Gullion Forest Park and Sentry Hill Historic House and Visitor Centre.
Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said: "We can be rightly proud of our beautiful public parks and open green spaces. They are an integral part of what makes Northern Ireland attractive to increasing numbers of tourists and they play a very important role in helping to improve the quality of life for all of the people of the north.
"I look forward to the excellent Green Flag award scheme moving on from strength to strength over the coming years and helping more of our public parks and open green spaces achieve higher environmental standards."
The awards were announced today by environmental charity Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, in association with Heyn Waste Solutions.
Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful chief executive Ian Humphreys paid tribute to the volunteers who help out.
"These people, and the organisations that employ them, have real vision, commitment and passion," he said.
"They have vision for our green space, planting a sapling today and imagining its impact in 50 or 100 years' time; they have commitment to meet the Green Flag Award standard, despite all the problems including budgetary constraints; and they have the passion to continuously improve our green space for everyone to enjoy.
"With such people at work, it is no surprise that once again a record number of awards are being made."
The Green Flag awards are judged every year by experts who visit applicant sites and assess them against the eight set criteria, including cleanliness, sustainability and conservation.
Park life: the 407-acre estate that’s home to statues, memorials... and 4,000 staff
- Stormont Estate falls largely within the remit of the Department of Finance and Personnel. The original land was purchased by the Government in 1921 for £20,344.
- It is one mile from the gates at the bottom of Prince of Wales Avenue to front steps of Parliament Buildings.
- The cost of constructing Parliament Buildings, completed in 1932, came close to £1.7m. To camouflage it during World War II, the building's Portland stone was painted with cow manure and bitumen, which took seven years to remove. The facade never regained its white colour.
- The rows of red twig lime trees on Prince of Wales Avenue were planted in 1929. All 305 are still going strong.
- There are statues, memorials and other features in the grounds including a Reconciliation sculpture by Josefina de Vasconcellos, a 12ft bronze Lord Carson statue by LS Merrifield and a Somme Memorial.
- The estate, popular with dog walkers and runners, is 407 acres and open to the public 365 days a year.
- As well as being the home of the NI Assembly, the working estate also accommodates a number of Civil Service departments, with 4,000 staff.