Alliance threatens court action as council alley-gates plan is blocked
The Alliance Party is threatening to sue Belfast City Council for alleged political discrimination over the failure to give the green light to its proposals for 17 alley-gates in east Belfast.
Alliance group leader Michael Long is accusing the DUP, Ulster Unionists and the Green Party of changing the criteria on the allocation of alley-gates to disadvantage his party.
He will be raising the issue at tonight's council meeting.
Mr Long said the only councillor to support Alliance on the matter at a meeting of the East Belfast Area Working Group last month was independent councillor Kate Mullan.
The Ulster Unionists last night dismissed Alliance's allegation of discrimination as "absolute nonsense".
The Green Party said its decision on the gates "had nothing to do with party politics".
DUP group leader Lee Reynolds couldn't be contacted for comment.
A council spokesman said it wasn't "appropriate for the council to comment" on Mr Long's allegations which were a matter for the elected representatives on the East Belfast Area Working Group.
Mr Long said hundreds of alley-gates across the city had been approved on the basis of requests by councillors in the £700,000 scheme.
He claimed those from his party were the only ones "singled out and treated differently".
Alliance proposed 11 gates at Donard Street, two at Grove Avenue, and four at Ardmore/Rossmore Avenue.
Mr Long said: "To my shock and dismay, when the list of gates to be approved was presented to the East Belfast Area Working Group, unionist councillors and the sole Green member asked for the decision to be deferred, supposedly for more information.
"I confirmed with council officers present that this was a complete departure from the established process by which every other request throughout the city has been dealt with in the current scheme.
"It seems very strange that £700,000 of gates in north, south, east and west Belfast can be allocated using one process and then the process is totally changed for the remaining 17 gates in east Belfast, which just happen to have been supported by Alliance councillors in the main."
Mr Long claimed it was a "deliberate attempt to interfere" with the ability of Alliance councillors to represent their constituents. "This is blatant discrimination against ratepayers who choose to raise issues through our party," he said.
"They are being singled out for less favourable treatment by the council on the basis of their perceived political opinion.
"We are seeking to get this deferral overturned in City Hall. If that doesn't happen, we will be pursuing legal action."
Alliance is collecting a petition of support from residents in the areas affected.
"Many are angry and disappointed at what's happened. They wanted these gates because they have been plagued by fly-tipping or anti-social behaviour," Mr Long said.
The alley-gates decision reinforced his party's concern about the allocation of funding in City Hall, he added. However, the UUP and the Greens rejected Alliance's allegations.
Ulster Unionist councillor Chris McGimpsey said: "Michael Long is talking absolute nonsense from start to finish.
"There is no discrimination against the Alliance Party whatsoever on this matter.
"The allocation of alley-gates is indicative of a party's degree of commitment to the east Belfast community at the area working group."
East Belfast Green councillor Georgina Milne said: "It is my belief that there wasn't enough data presented to determine where alley-gates should be installed.
"That was the basis of my decision. It had nothing to do with party politics."