Future of Belfast's Big Screen in doubt as councillors blame poor turnout on bad weather
The iconic Big Screen at Belfast City Hall looks set to be taken down and sold because it would cost the council too much to update - and they cannot find another venue for it.
Launched in a blaze of publicity in 2011 amid claims that it would help bring people from a divided city together to watch sporting events, the Big Screen has failed to attract the crowds expected.
Belfast City Council's Strategic Policy and Resources committee will today discuss its future.
City Hall officers are recommending that the screen be removed and sold.
Ulster Unionist, Alliance and SDLP councillors believe that would be the right decision.
SDLP councillor Declan Boyle said: "We just don't have the climate for outdoor TV.
"At best, people can sit in the grounds of City Hall watching it three or four months a year.
"People prefer to go to a bar to watch sporting events where they can have heat and soft seats. The Big Screen just isn't attracting the numbers.
"Continuing to fund and update it isn't the best use of ratepayers' money."
Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Rodgers added: "The numbers watching the Big Screen have been disappointing.
"It's not proven to be as popular as we thought when we supported its instalment.
"We expected about 50,000 people a year and I think we're getting around 35,000.
"The costs of keeping it are exceptionally high. If someone else is interested in taking it over and paying for it, that would be great. Otherwise, it's time to end its life."
Alliance councillor Michael Long said: "I never got massively excited about the Big Screen myself.
"The only large crowds I saw were gathered to watch football, boxing, the Olympics and Wimbledon. The rest of the year, it was quiet, and we have to weigh these figures up against the cost of running it."
Last month, Carl Frampton's homecoming event at City Hall was broadcast on the screen.
While the widely publicised reception for the new world featherweight champion was expected to attract 6,000-plus well-wishers, only a fraction of that number showed up.
The Big Screen was launched in advance of the London Olympics in 2012. It was to be a focal point for people to come together from across the city to enjoy sporting and cultural events outdoors.
It was also to be used to highlight important council campaigns, and let visitors know about the latest events in Belfast.
The Big Screen was due to be moved from its current location in May 2019.
The planning service had given it temporary consent to remain on the site only until that date because City Hall is a listed building, and retaining the screen any longer in a conservation area would be contrary to planning policy.
Another home was expected to be found for the Big Screen, but that has proved impossible.
Custom House Square was an option until council officers were informally advised by planners that permission was unlikely to be granted due to the historic buildings in that area.
The years have taken their toll on the Big Screen, which has been operating on average 14 hours daily across 364 days since 2011 - a total of 25,480 hours.
Its operational equipment urgently needs updating, requiring a new air conditioning system and high-speed broadband with an estimated cost of £120,000.
While the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee will vote on the Big Screen's future today, the final decision will be taken at a full council meeting next month.