How your 5p bag tax is helping to save six majestic buildings
Six listed buildings will have their futures assured by the mountain of 5p coins collected from carrier bag fees which has mushroomed into a £500,000 windfall.
Funds from the levy, introduced in April 2013, will go toward resurrecting decaying buildings and even assuring the future training of Presbyterian ministers throughout Ireland.
Environment Minister Mark H Durkan yesterday announced the £500,000 lifeline that will help conserve the Union Theological College in Belfast, part of Queen's Univerity's theology department, where the ministers are trained.
Other projects receiving a cash boost include a new tourism venue at the former Derry Cathedral Primary School in Londonderry, as well as the conversion of the former Holy Cross Boys' School on Belfast's Crumlin Road into a community centre.
Work will restore the Church of the Holy Undivided Trinity in Waringstown, Co Down, for continued ecclesiastical use, while Omagh's Sacred Heart Church will be restored, as will St Eugene's Cathedral in Derry.
Mr Durkan said that from a "tightly squeezed budget" within his Department of the Environment, only projects directly benefiting local communities will reap the rewards.
Stating the need to "prioritise", Mr Durkan said the scarce funds would be channelled into buildings, some of which have been lying derelict for years.
"Obviously I would like to fund many more projects but that was not possible given the dire economic situation," he said. "Under the budget cuts no money was to be allocated. Now some important community and church buildings will benefit."
The minister said he was mindful of other equally deserving buildings in need of urgent repair.
Restating the aim of the levy - to be spent on the environment for the use of all - he vowed to continue to keep seeking ways to address this budget problem "for the benefit of our environment".
In the past two years since the levy was imposed, the DoE has pumped £1.25m into the Natural Environment Fund, a new grant established for the protection of the Northern Ireland landscape, its native species and access to the countryside.
The NEF provided the coffers for the scheme due to a lack of funds left in the DoE budget.
It followed the creation of the £300,000 Challenge Fund in 2013 ring-fenced for "inspirational" environmental projects within youth and senior citizens, environmental groups plus schools and colleges.