Tag Archives: council

Andersonstown Leisure Centre to close on 29 May for council revamp

The centre was first developed in 1979.

Andersonstown Leisure Centre is to close its doors on May 29 so that refurbishment works can begin.

The centre was first established in 1979

Plans for the new centre were revealed in March as part of Belfast City Council’s £105m Leisure Transformation Programme . The programme aims to promote the Andersonstown facilities as the centre for water-based family fun.

The new centre is due to open in the summer 2019 with users advised to use other council leisure facilities in the meantime.

£25million was invested into the project, which will provide a family fun water centre and dry leisure facilities.

The ‘water’ plans include three slides: Masterblaster, Flatline Loop and body slide

However staff at the Leisure Centre have said they are angry at the lack of information they have received regarding the future of their jobs when the centre closes.

Deborah Boyle has worked as a receptionist in the centre from when it was first built in 1979.

She claims that staff have been given an “unfair choice” and that some still do not know if they will be given employment in other council leisure centres. Mrs Boyle says:

“They’ve offered us a redundancy package which is pathetic. It’s pittance.

I’ve worked here for nearly 40 years, loads of us have been here since the beginning.

It’s an unfair choice, either take the redundancy or wait around and hope there’s room for you somewhere else.”

The renovation follows the opening of the state-of-the-art Olympia Leisure Centre located on Boucher Road, Belfast.

Now simply named ‘The Olympia’ the centre is managed by the GLL ‘Better’ brand which has worked in partnership with Belfast city council to operate leisure centres since 2015.

The proposed plans for exterior of the centre

“Just not good enough”

People Before Profit Councillor Matthew Collins says that both staff and the community haven’t been given sufficient opportunity to voice their concerns. Mr Collins claims:

“I’ve spoken to the community and staff members who are not happy with the development plans.

Consultation was minimal from the start and it is just not good enough that some staff have been left confused when the closure is so soon.”

Swimming instructor Brendan Mulholland has been running swimming lessons for children for over 20 years in Andersonstown.

Brendan will be taking lessons in Whiterock until the building is finished and understands the need for renovation, but disagrees with the design plans of the new centre. He says:

“I’m trying to teach young people how to swim competitively and they’re making this place into a kiddies fun centre.

The council don’t care they just want to get as many people as possible through the doors”

  • The agreed facilities are:
  • large family fun focused area of leisure water
  • 25m six lane pool with 50 spectator seats
  • Learner Pool
  • Confidence water for small children and toddlers
  • 140 station fitness suite
  • Exercise studios
  • Spin studio
  • Cafe
  • Multipurpose room
  • Range of outdoor provision such as five-a-side pitches

“It definitely needs modernised.”

Regular gym user Clare Bannon says that new facilities are needed. Clare says:

“The rooms aren’t very well ventilated and the spin studio and gym can get so warm that you’re sweating before you’ve started working out! It definitely needs modernised.”

Ventilation, changing rooms and dry areas are to be improved upon under the new plans.

Ground Floor plans for the refurbished centre

A Belfast City Council spokesman has stated:

“Having developed initial designs for the new facility, we carried out a community consultation in September 2016.

Based on the feedback from this consultation the designs for the new centre were further refined.

We carried out a further period of consultation and recognise the importance of engaging staff to ensure they are aware of plans going forward.”

The new Andersonstown Leisure Centre is due to open in summer 2019.

Local council worries that rural areas will not benefit from Broadband improvement plans

The Fermanagh and Omagh council are worried that a project planning to improve broadband in Northern Ireland will not benefit rural areas.

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI), the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) have collaboratively invested £23.7m into a project to improve broadband in Northern Ireland.

The project, called the Northern Ireland Broadband Improvement Project (NIBIP) will aim to increase the availability of Superfast Broadband in areas were internet connectivity is currently poor or low.

The project will introduce a new broadband system into Northern Ireland called fibre optic broadband (or Superfast Broadband) which uses fibre optic cables to increase the speed of internet connections. The introduction of the fibre broadband connection will be delivered through two different types of infrastructures:

fibre-street-cabinet

Fibre to the cabinet (FTTC)

Through this method, fibre optic cables are connected from the telephone exchange or distribution point to an existing or new roadside cabinet (see the photograph above).

Fibre to the home/premises (FTTH or FTTP)

This will provide an end-to-end fibre optic connection. It will run the full distance from the exchange to the home or business premises.

Below is a video explaining the connection process

 

The project will be implemented into designated areas of Northern Ireland in accordance to household and business postcodes. The DETI has explained that this method of delivery has been used to accommodate the large area in which the project is planning to cover. The project will be implemented in eight phases between February 2014 and December 2015. This process will see some postcodes enabled before others. Some postcodes have even been left off the list altogether. This has caused concern among those who have been left off the list and will miss out on the broadband improvements.

See if your postcode is included on the list: http://www.online.detini.gov.uk/Broadband/Start.aspx 

The Fermanagh and Omagh council have raised concerns about this project. They believe rural areas, which would account for most of their council area, will not benefit from these improvements. In particular, they blame the fact that the project, and previous projects, have not being ring-fenced specifically for rural areas.

The DETI have defneded the projects decisions to pinpoint certain areas for improvement. They said they conducted extensive research before deciding which areas to target through the project. These assessments were carried out in conjunction with B.T. They evaluated financial and technical constraints, and ‘the best possible use of public funding’ to achieve best value for money.

Arlene Foster, Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment has directly responded to the issues raised by the council. She has stated that although it is thought by some that rural areas are not being targeted, she believes, “that is not the case”. In a letter to the council she emphasized that this project is specifically geared towards helping rural areas. The letter also pointed out that, to date the project has improved broadband access in over 17,500 homes, including 3,000 homes in the Fermanagh and Omagh Council area.

The Enterprise Minister admitted that after the completion of the NIBIP, “the needs of all premises may not be met”. She explained that in light of this the DETI is planning to fund a further project with an investment of over £14m to continue to work and increase the reach of Superfast Broadband by 2017. She added that this additional investment will also include improving internet connection for postcodes within the Fermanagh and Omagh area.

The concerns raised by the council are not stand alone as they have been echoed by concerned residents of the council area.

Ann Curran, who lives in the countryside in Fermanagh believes she would be better off not having any internet than paying for a service which she calls “temperamental”. She explains that her sons who are studying for their GCSE’s depend on the internet for their school work. Mrs Curran said she feels a constant sense of frustration when trying to connect to her internet. And on occasions the lack of internet in their home has resulted in her sons not being able to complete their school assignments.

She said, “It’s not fair that we are paying the same price for internet as everyone else, yet we can go for days at a time without the right access”. When asked about her feelings towards the NIBIP, she said, “I would really love for it to happen (the broadband improvements) but I have been disappointed with these sorts of promises before. The internet in the town might improve with it but I doubt us being in the countryside will get any of the benefits”.

Another rural B.T Broadband user uploaded a video about her internet experiences to youtube in the form of a comical short which won her competition with NI Broadband in 2013.

Are we really saving money in our local councils?

The 1st April 2015 saw a major reform of the local government in Northern Ireland. The Local Government Reform brought together the existing, 26 councils of Northern Ireland, merging them together to form 11 new super councils. This move was designed to render the local government more economic and efficient. However, from looking at the pay roll of councillors now sitting on the new super councils this would not appear to be the case.

Strabane District Council has undergone the reform, along with the rest of Northern Ireland on April 1st and merged with Derry City Council to become Derry City and Strabane District Council. Some powers and responsibilities have been devolved from the Northern Ireland Executive. The 11 super councils have undertaken the responsibility of local planning functions, off-street parking and local economic development. These responsibilities have been devolved with the credit that local councils know what their own area needs and what economic and planning developments would suit the area and best serve the people.

Chief Executive of Derry City and Strabane District Council, John Kelpie at a recent meeting in Castlederg, explained that, 620 staff were employed by the previous Derry City Council and 220 by Strabane District Council, totalling 840 staff. The public were lead to believe that there would be reductions in staffing but Mr Kelpie went on further to expand: “With the challenges that we have locally, I would estimate that we would need between three and a half to four thousand people to do what we’re trying to achieve.” This counteracts one of the missions of the super councils and suggests that the force with which they wish to attack issues in the community, along with improving life in the local government for the businesses and people of the area, this volume of personnel would be required.

It is also noteworthy that councillors under the new reform, are being given a £5,000 pay rise, much to the dismay of many people in the local community. Strabane councillors were previously being paid £9,835 per annum under the Strabane District Council ruling. Now, under the new reform councillors have a set wage of £14,200. Therefore the estimated economic saving in the reducing of councillor numbers is surely counteracted by the increase in councillor pay. If the super councils are attempting to save money by combining resources and as a result, redundancies being issued to staff of the previous set-up, why is an increase in wages coming to the fore?

Furthermore, councillors who chair a committee within the council are entitled to an additional £8,050 per annum justified as a ‘Special Responsibility Allowance’. This controversial increase in wages is challenged alternatively by Councillor Patsy Kelly, SDLP. He voiced his concerns that despite the increase in wages it is still insufficient to cover the amount of hours councillors spend at meetings and attending constituency issues. He concluded by saying that councillors are working below minimum wage per hour.

On the other hand, Jarlath McNulty, former councillor of Strabane District Council, now a community worker said: “There are many people working every single day from our community who would like to have a secure job for four years and receive a starting income of £14,200 a year”. The question still stands as to whether the new council arrangements will truly deliver on improved efficiency and economics.

The new mayor of the Derry City and Strabane District Council, Elisha McCallion set unemployment as top of her priorities in taking up her role. The most recent unemployment rate (Dec. 14 – April 15) for Derry/Londonderry and Strabane currently runs at 6%, an increase of 0.2% from the previous quarter. A re-direction of funds to address unemployment issues would be deemed preferable to increasing councillor salaries.

ElishaMcCallion-sm
Elisha McCallion as new mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council

 

Another cost passed onto the people of Northern Ireland under the Local Government Reform is the increase in rate bills. Although the council will benefit from the reform, it is evident that it all comes at a cost to the people of Northern Ireland.

The following councillors make up the new Derry City and Strabane District Council –

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You can find out more about the new reform of councils on Ni Direct.

 

Super Councils for Dummies

The reform of local government in Northern Ireland sees the replacement of the 26 districts created in 1973 with a smaller number of super districts.

The review process began in 2002 with proposals for either seven or 11 districts made before it was suspended in 2010. On March 12 2012 the Northern Ireland Executive published its programme for government which included a commitment to reduce the number of councils in Northern Ireland to 11. The first elections were on May 22 2014.

From April 1 2015 the new councils took over. The new councils provide the same services as previous councils however they have a number of new powers and responsibilities which are outlined in the table below.

Planning

· Local development plan functions

· Development control and enforcement

Roads

· Off-street parking
Local economic development

· Start a Business Programme and Enterprise Shows

· Youth entrepreneurship (such as Prince’s Trust and Shell Livewire)

· Social entrepreneurship

· Investing for Women

· Neighbourhood renewal funding relating to enterprises initiatives

Local Tourism

· Small-scale tourism accommodation development

· Providing business support including business start-up advice, along with training and delivery of customer care schemes

· Providing advice to developers on tourism policies and related issues

Heritage

· Small-scale tourism accommodation development

· Providing business support including business start-up advice, along with training and delivery of customer care schemes

· Providing advice to developers on tourism policies and related issues

Urban regeneration and community development

· Small-scale tourism accommodation development

· Providing business support including business start-up advice, along with training and delivery of customer care schemes

· Providing advice to developers on tourism policies and related issues

Other services

· Small-scale tourism accommodation development

· Providing business support including business start-up advice, along with training and delivery of customer care schemes

· Providing advice to developers on tourism policies and related issues

There are two overriding key benefits to the reform of councils in Northern Ireland.

1. Improved service provision

Councils are being given new responsibilities and a broader range of powers. Combined with partnership working with other Departments and agencies operating in their areas, this will make councils stronger, more effective and flexible to local need. They will be able to better co-ordinate service delivery and avoid duplication, leading to more efficient, high quality services.

2. Long-term cost savings

The potential long term financial benefits are substantial as amalgamating 26 councils into 11 brings with it economies of scale. The costs and benefits of reform are currently being examined to take account of the 2015 programme timetable, the sector’s Improvement, Collaboration and Efficiency proposals and the current economic climate in which reform is now being taken forward.

Councillors have been reduced in number from 582 to 462, each receiving an allowance of £14,200 a year. Those members who hold office such as mayor, deputy mayor or committee chair will also receive a special responsibility allowance.

The following table outlines the new council areas, their location and their electorate.

Council

Where

Who

Fermanagh and Omagh

All of Co. Fermanagh and parts of TyroneBorders Donegal, Leitrim, Cavan and Monaghan

Electorate of 74,414

Derry and Strabane

Includes Co. Londonderry and Tyrone

Borders Co. Donegal

Electorate of 92,593

Mid Ulster

Includes part of Co. Londonderry, Tyrone and Armagh

Borders Monaghan

Electorate of 86,591

Causeway Coast and Glens

Includes part of Co. Antrim and Londonderry Electorate of 88,654

Mid and East Antrim

Part of Co. Antrim

Electorate of 89,832

Antrim and Newtownabbey

Part of Co. Antrim

Electorate of 84,996

Belfast

Belfast City

Electorate of 323,567

Lisburn and Castlereagh

Many of the outer suburbs of Belfast

Electorate of 83,369

North Down and Ards

 

Ards Peninsula, most of Stangford lough and the southern shore of Belfast Lough

Electorate of 102,313

Newry, Mourne and Down

 

Includes Southern Co. Armagh and Co. DownBorders Co. Louth and Monaghan Electorate of 107,233
Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Includes parts of Co. Armagh and Down

Electorate 124,996

Map showing the 26 old  local government districts in Northern Ireland
Map showing the 11 new local government districts in Northern Ireland
Map showing the 11 new local government districts in Northern Ireland
Map showing the existing and new local government districts in Northern Ireland
Map showing the existing and new local government districts in Northern Ireland

If you are unsure as to your new council area and electoral ward, enter your postcode here.

There are fears over minority communities in the new council areas as Stormont’s two main power blocs tighten their grip on local government.

Ten out of the 11 new super councils are dominated either by unionists or nationalists consolidating the green and orange politics of the province. This has given rise to fears that local level politics could cement the divisions which have been evident at Stormont.

Belfast is the only council which remains ‘hung’ where Alliance holds the balance of power between unionists and nationalists.

David Ford, Alliance MLA has said, “As the new councils will have more responsibilities, it is imperative that councillors move beyond the orange and green tribal politics and towards a more inclusive style of governing,”

“Councillors must work together to deliver the best possible services for ratepayers, and council positions must be fairly distributed.”

Arnold Hatch, President of the umbrella councils body, the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA), said: “The large parties tend to dominate, whether it’s the west of the province with Sinn Fein or the east of the province with the DUP. That has been the case.

“But at the same time 99% of the decisions which councils have to take are done on a consensual basis and my firm belief is that if councils are given real responsibilities they will knuckle down to that work and these petty arguments over positions will diminish.”

Bill White, chair of polling organisation LucidTalk, said: “I think it is arguable that the boundaries for the new Belfast council were designed in such a way to ensure it would remain a hung council – as predicted by ourselves and many others.

“I think the hope was that there would be more hung councils, in Causeway Coast and Glens, for example, and Mid and East Antrim, but that has not turned out to be the case.”

An interactive map highlighting the difference between the old and new council areas can be found here.

Northern Ireland Rail speeding towards a bright future.

Courtesy of Translink and NIR
Coleraine Bus and Rail Station, courtesy of Translink and NIR

Just as the train line between Londonderry and Coleraine is set to re-open on the 24th March, one week ahead of schedule, Mr Mal McGreevy updated Coleraine Borough Council on Translink’s recent achievements.

The Derry-Coleraine track has been closed for major engineering works since July 2012. Since then Mr McGreevy reported that services between Coleraine and Belfast have increased by 70% with a service running every hour since January 6th when the new timetables were introduced.

He said there has been, “tremendous growth in terms of people who are using the transport” with a 10-15% increase in the amount of people using the rail services. Mr McGreevy said he was “Grateful for the custom”.

On Translink’s website, Catherine Mason, Translink Group Chief Executive issued a statement saying, “We are delighted to be reopening this line in time for the Easter holiday period and hope many people will take the opportunity to travel on this very scenic part of our network.”

Mayor Samuel Cole, who described the train journey along the Derry line as “beautiful”, thanked and congratulated Translink on their achievements and welcomed the re-opening of the Derry-Coleraine line.

Councillor David McClarty said the service had been “totally resurrected… [I am] looking forward to the reopening of the line and everyone should be supporting Translink.”

The current cost of maintaining the service is £25-30 million per year. Mr McGreevy told the council there is the potential to expand the Belfast to Coleraine service. He said one way of doing this would be to possibly increase the amount of cars from the current 3-4 up to 6, which would be capable of carrying more people. The current 3 car trains have the capability to hold 216 passengers. Mr McGreevy rounded off his update by urging the council to encourage people to invest in Translink.