Perception of Belfast is that it is a ‘dirty and unclean’ city as concerns grow over littering, fly-tipping, graffiti and rats

Belfast Council has been told the perception of the city is that it is “dirty and unclean.”

Elected representatives at City Hall this week warned of a “crisis in confidence” in the state of the council’s cleansing efforts, in the midst of a growing storm concerning littering, fly tipping, missed collections and graffiti.

All parties came together at Tuesday’s People and Communities Committee to back a “Cleansing Task Force” consisting of members from each party, senior management, cleansing management to be convened by the Lord Mayor, with officer recommendations to be returned this month.

Belfast has seen months of bad headlines concerning littering, graffiti “tagging” and rat infestation due to fly tipping, with business owners and residents alike crying out against a perceived “run down” city centre.

Belfast city centre

Sinn Féin Councillor Ciaran Beattie, who tabled the council motion, told the committee: “The motion is based on information we’re getting from members of the public and business leaders within the city centre around the cleanliness of the city. Obviously Covid had a big impact on that, but it’s important for us to get back to where we were.

“We talk a lot in this council about major investments in the city, for example we’re looking at a new destination hub. But none of that matters to citizens and to business leaders if their bins aren’t being emptied and their streets aren’t being cleaned.

Green Party Councillor Brian Smyth said: “I welcome this, and I have noted the DUP have brought a motion around graffiti, and both are to be welcomed. There is a rising perception among many in this city that Belfast is dirty and unclean at the minute.

“I have been contacted by many residents over recent weeks – it is becoming a regular thing to complain about graffiti in East Belfast. And many think the standards have fallen in the city centre as well in terms of cleanliness.

“In relation to graffiti, I find it hard to comprehend that we only have a policy to remove offensive material, yet when it comes to tagging, which has become prolific in parts of East Belfast – the parkgate dual carriageways, Sydenham bypass, the Cregagh Road and Loopland – this council and the Department for Infrastructure won’t remove it.

“Look at the city centre – parts of Great Victoria Street are not a great reflection, nor are parts of Castle Place. And I know from talking to the Belfast Chamber of Commerce, when they were talking to foreign students studying in Belfast, they found that while they liked the city and plenty to offer, they said it was dirty in parts.

He said there was “a real crisis of confidence in this city” about “the sense of pride in maintaining cleansing standards.”

SDLP Councillor Séamas de Faoite said: “What I would like to see included in this is a focus and recognition around the need for the council to expand services throughout the night time. I brought a motion last year for the need to create a coordinator for our night time activity and economy and how to support the recovery.

Green Party Councillor Mal O’Hara said: “We do have a schedule of cleansing across the city, but if you ask local communities or businesses “Do you see your cleanser every week, or twice a week?” in that answer – often the answer is “No”.

“We know there are issues with the dominance of cars in this city, inhibiting street cleansing properly, and all the other attendant issues. But I think there is an issue with the transparency of the situation. If communities know for example that every Tuesday in the afternoon their area will be cleansed, then they will know to expect that level of cleanliness.”