More than £2 million raised by taxing plastic bags in Northern Ireland is to benefit some 250 eco-friendly community projects, Stormont’s Environment Minister has announced.
A total of £2.2 million generated by the carrier bag levy will be allocated to 251 groups and organisations who successfully applied for support, Mark H Durkan said.
Less than half that amount - £1 million - had originally been earmarked from the tax revenue to develop environmental projects through the Northern Ireland Environment Agency’s Challenge Fund, but the minister said an overwhelming number of applications had prompted the increase.
Youth, senior citizens and environmental groups have all been awarded funding.
The challenge fund was set up two years ago as a pilot initiative but, boosted by proceeds from the bag levy, which was introduced earlier this year, the scheme has now been significantly expanded.
More than 60 of the successful projects will benefit primary and secondary schools, universities and colleges.
“The carrier bag levy is very much the people’s fund,” said Mr Durkan.
“It is only right therefore that so many people across a wide variety of ages and locations both urban and rural will benefit. This fund has inspired local communities to work together and I have been really impressed by the level of partnership between local businesses, schools, youth groups and residents.”
Projects include the renovation of the 300-year-old Curry’s Cottage in Derrylin, Co Fermanagh, for schools and community groups in the area and the development of a sensory/nurture garden in St Malachy’s Primary School in Belfast.
Siobhain Brown, from the group behind the Curry Cottage project, said: “This new lease of life for Curry’s Cottage made possible by the NIEA’s Challenge Fund will create an opportunity for more people to experience the enchantment of one of Northern Ireland’s architectural gems.”
Brian White, from St Malachy’s Primary School, said the garden would help special needs pupils, “providing a fun and creative project which offers a great way to keep kids active outdoors and enjoying the fresh air.”
The challenge fund has also been boosted by £200,000 from the forest service for woodland-based community projects.
Forestry minister Michelle O’Neill said: “I am delighted that applications to the forest service stream of the challenge fund will ensure full uptake of the £200,000 I made available for forest based community led projects. I look forward to seeing the selected projects come to fruition.”