Brian Smyth (Green Party) has said there are “structural problems” behind the growing sense of unease around cleanliness and environmental health in city centre streets.
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.
This week a report of huge chunks of masonry falling from the George Best Hotel site onto the street below seemed to sum up the sense of neglect.
Mr Smyth said that recent discussion in the council about the possibility for the Sunday opening of city hall and earlier shop opening times was “cosmetic”. He said there were “real long-term structural issues with the city centre”.
He added: “Bottom line is that as an elected representative of this city, I keep hearing a similar theme from people, they find the city centre dirty and don’t feel safe. I feel embarrassed and a sense of shame when I hear this – we are failing on the fundamentals.
“Levels of graffiti and rubbish are an issue in parts of the city centre. The policy on graffiti isn’t fit for purpose, only offensive material is removed, yet tagging and anything else isn’t touched.”
He said the council was about to buy new equipment and train up a team to deal with cleaning the city centre, and in particular to power wash the street more, particularly in areas around Castle Place, running up to city hall. He said the enforcement of littering had to be improved.
He added: “We’ve seen with the pandemic the importance of public space, but Belfast has been slow to move on pedestrianisation. Belfast City Council isn’t responsible for everything in the city centre, but it can and should lead. Others such as the Department for Infrastructure, the Department for Communities, the Housing Executive, and property owners also need to step up collectively for a common and consistent standard. Some areas will need legislation change.
“Great Victoria Street is the perfect example – it should be thriving as the connection from Shaftesbury Square to the city centre, yet it is run down, dilapidated, with empty properties looking grubby and sad. How can buildings sit derelict for years?
“This isn’t a short-term fix, it is the result of decades of inaction. But the council needs an early response on building confidence again with the public in the city centre.”