Rates rise approved for Belfast residents
Gráinne McWilliams at Belfast City Council
Belfast City Council has voted to increase rates bills by 3.5 percent — an average of £2-per-month.
At the February meeting of the council, which took place on Monday night, councillors voted to increase the district rate by 7.81 percent, but as the regional rate remained at zero, the overall rate increase was set at 3.5 percent.
Rates bill for a terraced house will increase by £18, a three-bedroom semi-detached house will see an increase of £28, and a four-bedroom detached house will increase by £62.
Speaking after the meeting, Councillor Tom Hartley, chairman of the Strategic Policy and Resources committee, said: “We have kept this rates rise down to an absolute minimum of less that 50p-per-week against the backdrop of rising costs and a drop in income.
“In order to achieve the new rates figure, Belfast City Council has made savings of £7 million since 2006, with a plan in place to achieve further efficiencies of £2m during the next year. This achievement is even more significant given that we are now experiencing a worldwide recession combined with a fall in rate and revenue income.
“Our commitment is to ensure that we provide and improve services and operate in an effective, efficient and value-for-money way. In our efforts to achieve a cleaner, greener, safer city we will strive to ensure that we also prepare for the future.
“That is why we are building a City Investment Fund of £30m to invest across the city in new landmark developments. We are currently investing £13m in the Titanic Signature Project, the Community Greenway Project and the new Lyric and Mac Theatres. Our commitment has helped ensure a total investment of £153m in these projects.”
Elsewhere in this month's council meeting, a delegation from PLM Promotions made a representation to the chamber asking for permission to use Giant’s Park in north Belfast for a music concert on May 8, 2010.
“Organisation of this event is at a critical stage now,” said a spokesman for PLM Promotions.
“The next meeting of the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee takes place next week, so it is critical that it (the application to stage the event) is discussed now so that the relevant planning can be done.
“We looked at other sites but this (Giant's Park) seems unparalleled for safety for the community.”
Speaking after the presentation, Upper Falls councillor Michael Browne said the council “should encourage” the application.
“I think it will promote Belfast as a city,” said Councillor Browne.
“However, there are members of the public that have expressed concerns over the event and we need to address them. We should offer support that all concerns will be met”.
However, Castle councillor David Browne said he had “heard nothing about the application”.
“Someone wants to stage a concert at Giant's Park – it's not a park it's a wasteland,” said Councillor David Browne.
“For anyone who doesn't know that area, it's pretty remote and pretty dangerous.”
After a motion by Balmoral councillor Thomas Eakin, seconded by Victoria councillor Mervyn Jones, council granted approval “for the use of the site, subject to the terms as set out in the report submitted to the Committee, that is, on the basis of the Licensing Committee determining the times for the event and authority being granted to the Director of Property and Projects to approve the holding of the event, subject to:
- the event organisers satisfying the Director on all operational issues;
- the completion of an appropriate legal agreement, incorporating the financial implications, to be prepared by the Director of Legal Services;
- the event organisers meeting all statutory requirements, including the Licensing Committee determining at its next meeting all necessary entertainments licensing matters;
- the Council’s Environmental Health Manager (Health and Safety) being satisfied on all aspects of health and safety;
- and all Members of the Council being invited to attend the relevant meeting of the Licensing Committee”.
Councillors expressed concerns over the ongoing Review of Public Administration (RPA) within the council and the associated reform of local government, particularly the work of transition body the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA).
Balmoral councillor Bob Stoker expressed “deep frustration with the process we're involved in with NILGA”, and proposed that a full report be brought to the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee on the issue and to suspend discussions with the group temporarily for three months.
“The expertise of NILGA in delivering is just not here,” said Councillor Stoker.
“I propose that we suspend membership of NILGA for three months pending a report to the ( Strategic Policy and Resources) committee with regard to the delays being suffered by our own officers.”
Fellow Balmoral councillor Thomas Eakin said: “I understand the concerns about NILGA, but many councillors are not engaging with NILGA or attending meetings. We are going through a major process of change.”
However, Victoria councillor David Rodway said he “took issue” with what Councillor Eakin said. “All our members who sit on NILGA attend (meetings),” he said.
Laganbank councillor Christopher Stalford he was “minded to back” Councillor Stoker's proposal as he felt membership of NILGA “cost too much”.
“However I do not support the council suspending its membership (of NILGA) as we are in the process of a review of public administration,” said Councillor Stalford.
“To say that Belfast City Council's interest is best served by being absent from NILGA is wrong. You only get out what you put in – if the relationship (with NILGA) is bad what have we done at our end to do that?”
Victoria councillor Jim Rodgers said: “I agree with Councillor Eakin – attendance at (NILGA) meetings leaves a lot to be desired.
“The last meeting that took place, only two (Belfast City) councillors turned up.”
Responding, Councillor Stoker said: “NILGA are not accepting the recommendations we are putting to them. If they do not change we should have the option to withdraw from them on a temporary basis.”
Lower Falls councillor Tom Hartley said that Councillor Stoker's motion took on a “long-running issue within this council”.
“However, I think we should get a report (on the issue) before we agree to withdraw support from NILGA,” said Councillor Hartley.
At the end of the discussion, Councillor Stoker agreed to withdraw “reluctantly” the second part of his motion asking for a temporary three-month withdrawal from NIGLA pending “a detailed report on the council’s engagement with NIGLA, and the associated benefits and detriments to the council of continuing membership, which is to be submitted to the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee”.
It was raised by councillors that residents living near the Orby Chase area of east Belfast should be consulted regarding plans for a Public Paths Creation Order there to facilitate the Connswater Community Greenway project.
Local residents expressed concerns that the opening up of the path at Orby Chase to the public would “lead to an increase in anti-social behaviour”, according to the minutes of the Parks and Leisure Committee.
“Council officers have been in consultation with residents (on the issue) and continue to do so,” said Councillor Stalford, chairman of the Parks and Leisure Committee.
The council agreed to adopt the recommendation of the committee for a Public Paths Creation Order for the pathway.
Councillor Rodway expressed concerns over attacks carried out on community safety wardens in the York Road area on November 21, 2009, and on two members of the Night Time Noise Team in the New Lodge area on November 27, 2009. Two men had been arrested and charged in relation to the attacks on the Night Time Noise Team.
Speaking about the incidents, Councillor Rodgers said: “It is important that we show sympathy and support for people carrying out their work.”
Councillor David Browne said: “Regarding those two people caught (in relation to the New Lodge attacks), no expense should be spared in making sure they feel the full vigour of the law. We should make an example of people like that.”
Laganbank councillor Pat McCarthy said: “It is time that we as a council stand shoulder to shoulder with employees who face abuse night-after-night.”
Councillor Stalford asked that the Health and Environmental Services Committee accept a motion amending the council's draft response to a Department of Agriculture and Regional Development (DARD) consultation document on proposals for changes to dog control legislation. The committee recommended that it should be a criminal offence for a dog to attack an “assistance dog, such as a guide dog”.
“I would ask that the council accept an amendment that they believe that a dog attack on another dog is also a criminal offence,” said Councillor Stalford.
Councillor David Browne seconded this amendment.
“We are not just talking about two dogs fighting with each other,” said Councillor Browne.
“It's about who's keeping the dogs. Put the people that own them (dogs which attack other dogs) down as the poor dogs do not know any different. Until someone is fatally wounded it will always be a case of “oh, we didn't realise” from the dog owner.”
The amendment was agreed on by the council that “the consultation document be amended to reflect in answer to question 10 that the Council agrees that it should be an offence to allow a dog to attack another dog”.