Killjoy council to fine Belfast hotel £2,500 over Christmas banners
Business offers to donate cash to charity
Killjoy council officials have threatened to fine a Belfast hotel £2,500 over its Christmas decorations.
Ten Square in Belfast city centre received a letter from the council’s planning service stating the Coca-Cola Happy Holiday banners were “unauthorised,” breaching planning regulations and giving them until Thursday to bring them down.
However, the hotel's management were defiant. A representative told the Belfast Telegraph that if it costs the business £2,500 “to wish the people of Belfast Happy Christmas, then so be it”.
The management also offered to donate the money to a homeless charity instead of paying the fine.
The council said it was carrying out an enforcement investigation due to an advertisement on a listed building.
One member of the council's planning committee acknowledged the matter had not been received well especially given their efforts to encourage and develop business. They described the fine as "over the top" but said "rules are rules" and they had to act fairly.
Stephen Carson, group operations director of the Loughview Leisure Group, which owns Ten Square, said the banners had been put up on the hotel in 2012, 2013, and 2014 without any problem.
The group bought Ten Square in 2015 before investing and expanding it into a 131 room hotel.
“This is our first year of us having the hotel full to capacity and we had been chatting to the guys in coke and we decided to put the banner up. We had it worded "Happy Holidays" instead of “Happy Christmas” to appeal to everyone," Mr Carson said.
“We are not advertising anything, we are not saying you can buy a coke here. It is just Happy Christmas.
“You walk across the street to Belfast City Hall and the whole thing is covered in banners advertising the market, they have banners all year round advertising their coffee shop, their walking tours.
“This letter came in a couple of days after we put the banner up saying get it down by Thursday saying we had contravened planning regulations.”
He added: "But if that is what is costs us to wish the people of Belfast a Happy Christmas, then so be it."
Councillors have hit out at the move. Some pointed to masked men appearing to be free to erect banners attacking Sinn Fein General Election candidate John Finucane as well as posters in support of Soldier F, while businesses are being fined for wishing people a happy Christmas.
Ciaran Beattie, Sinn Fein group leader at Belfast City Council, told the Belfast Telegraph it was not fair businesses were being penalised while it appeared nothing was being done to fine those behind Soldier F banners and posters attacking party colleague and Lord Mayor John Finucane.
“I have been contacted by a number of constituents in west Belfast with legitimate businesses who are out there creating employment," he said.
"They have been issued with these letters threatening them with £2,500 fines because of their advertising banners. But if you stick a scarf over your face and you put an offensive banner up it seems there is a blind eye turned to it. It is not fair on businesses who are out there to earn a living and they are being penalised while masked men can do what they want. That is not fair.”
PUP councillor Billy Hutchinson, who sits on the council’s licencing committee, added: “It is a listed building, it is a lovely building, but I would have thought whether it was a listed building or not you want people in the city centre wishing people a 'merry Christmas'. I thought that is what we wanted to do and that is why we are doing a Belfast agenda.”
Mr Hutchinson said described as a "lovely idea" the hotel's offer to donate the fine to charity.
"However, the difficulty is that money will be in legislation which will dictate where that money is to go, so we could not change that without a minister," he added
"The sentiment is right but my understanding is legislation informs us what we can do, or can’t do, with that money.”
A Belfast City Council spokesperson said: “Due to an unauthorised advertisement on a listed building at Ten Square, Council is carrying out an enforcement investigation. The council will take action if it is considered necessary and appropriate to do so.”
Belfast Telegraph Digital