Only one politician turned up at business meeting to discuss drug misuse and cleanliness in the popular area, writes Emma Deighan
A leading restaurateur has hit out after just one Belfast City councillor turned up to a meeting held last month to discuss drug misuse and cleanliness issues in the Cathedral Quarter.
Niall McKenna has been calling on the council to clean up the area, popular with tourists and locals alike for its range of pubs and restaurants, for more than a year.
Mr McKenna is about to reinvest there with the relocation of his Hadskis venture to his new Waterman House cookery school.
The chef has complained about litter and graffiti in the district, prompting the Cathedral Quarter Business Improvement District (BID) group to invite leaders or representatives to a meeting to discuss the problem.
However, just the UUP’s Jim Rodgers showed up at the meeting in Duke of York owner Willie Jack’s Dark Horse venue on April 27.
It was hosted by Damien Corr of Cathedral Quarter BID and attended by frustrated hospitality owners, retailers, law firms and more who share concerns over the safety and appearance of the area.
Mr McKenna said he had been disappointed by the response from councillors.
“We need to move Belfast on, from investments in buildings to cleaning up the city, and only one councillor turned up to a meeting to discuss that. That is extremely disappointing,” he said.
“The state of the city centre is not a political issue, this is a problem for everyone. There is no drive and hunger to sort this out.”
Mr McKenna slammed the council for slow planning processes and a lack of investment. He said it was the private sector that was pumping finance into the city.
“We held that meeting to show councillors how much we are investing in the city to move it on, and it’s massive money.
“We have business owners of all different age brackets playing their part but there is no vision in the council to help and we need visionaries there, like we used to have in the days when we attracted MTV.
“It’s very disheartening and lack of investment from the council is knocking the wind out of the sails of business people.”
Former Belfast Lord Mayor Mr Rodgers said that “even though there is an election on, we still have to give attention to that area, particularly now we are in spring, and more and more people are coming to Belfast”.
“We’ve had major problems in that part of city for some considerable time and I share the concerns of the business community. I feel we as a council really do need to give it more attention,” he said.
“It’s a very attractive area. We’ve had a cruise ship in today and more are coming, people are encouraging visitors to go there, but when you go round and see litter, rubbish and vomit – it’s not good enough.”
Mr Rodgers said on his way to the meeting, the issues facing business owners was evident.
He added: “It’s depressing some of the things I saw that day.
“The business people based there are putting massive amounts of money in and paying rates and I don’t want to see anyone having to pull the shutters down.”
Asked if he believed the lack of councillors in attendance reflected a lack of concern for the issues facing businesses there, he said: “I think we all need to get our act together. I have no doubt that of the current 60 Belfast councillors, most of them have never been in that part of Belfast to see it.
“As a former Lord Mayor, I have, and I continue to visit it and I see that it has become terribly run down. I’m not criticising anyone, but we need to act.”
BID manager and meeting host Mr Corr confirmed that out of eight party members invited to the event only the UUP attended, while the DUP, Green Party and SDLP responded to their invitations to say they could not attend.
He said five other invited party members didn’t acknowledge the invite, nor subsequent reminders.
The Alliance Party and Sinn Fein did not respond to a request for comment.
“Jim Rodgers turned up and did a good job, but businesses were very disappointed the others couldn’t find time,” said Mr Corr.
“This is an important part of the city and businesses are fed up with the state of the streets, cleanliness, drug usage and the aggressiveness they face when they try to move drug users on.
“We wanted to work with councillors to see what we could do together.
“There is so much good news here. We have a lot of cruise ships visiting and a lot of major conferences, but businesses here think we are not fit to receive them.
“Fair enough councillors are out canvassing and they’re busy and I’m not saying they don’t care but when they don’t turn up to meetings like this, it doesn’t help.
“I know my colleagues in other BIDs have similar issues but what we need to look at is the Cathedral Quarter and how it’s going to change later this year. Is it fit for the future?
“We will have 15,000 students and people milling around the area in September when the new university term beings. At present there are 3,500 people there and we have to ask has the council adjusted its resources accordingly.”