THIS month's Belfast City Council meeting saw an intense debate between Councillors over whether or not to spend £35,000 on new gates at Crescent Park in South Belfast.
The proposed gates will cost £60,000, with the Council putting up £35k and the rest coming from private donations. Supporters of the gates argued that they will help reduce anti-social behaviour and drug dealing which have plagued the park and will be able to restrict nighttime access, making it harder for people to use the space in darkness for criminal activities.
Opponents of the gates said the decision to erect them wasn't made transparent to the press or public. SDLP Councillor Gary McKeown put forward a motion to halt the gates going up and argued that they wouldn't increase security as the "surrounding fence is only about four feet high and very easy to climb."
I proposed at Council tonight that this should be brought back to Committee to be discussed, in public, with groups allowed to speak.— Cllr Gary McKeown (@garymckeown) February 1, 2024
This was rejected.
Ornate gates will be installed to close off a public space using ratepayers' money when parts of our parks are falling apart. https://t.co/oso9RYNh9I
This week at the full meeting of Belfast City Council, Sinn Féin, the DUP and Alliance faced off against the SDLP and the Greens over a ratified decision to close Crescent Park at night, as soon as the new gates were erected.
An SDLP proposal to halt a committee decision to erect the gates, made in a secret session, fell.
A vote resulted in eight votes in favour from the SDLP and the Greens, and 48 against from all the other parties in the chamber.
SDLP Councillor Gary McKeown said: “The decision to spend £60,000 of ratepayers' money on ornate gates at Crescent Park is apparently to increase security, despite the fact the surrounding fence is only about four feet high, and very easy to climb."
Councillor McKeown, who represents the Botanic DEA, said Botanic reps were not consulted on the decision and here were more pressing parks issues which needed sorted, such as wheelchair access to the basketball court in Ormeau Park.
Alliance supported erecting the gates and Councillor Micky Murray said a resident had told him she's terrified due to anti-social behaviour in the park every night. He added she has CCTV footage of people trying to break into her home.
Swift towers are an incredible tool we can use to provide homes to one of Northern Ireland's red-listed species.— Cllr Anthony Flynn (@AntoFlynnser) February 1, 2024
Tonight I proposed that council do a feasibility and delivery of a swift tower in Crescent Park as part of our commitment to conservation.
The Greens said the new gates would be contrary to Council policy on 24-hour opening of park space. Councillor Anthony Flynn proposed instead that £20,000 of the money towards the gates should be used to construct a swift tower in the park.
Crescent Park is currently the largest swift colony in the North. The bird is currently on the red list and is globally threatened.
A vote on this proposal resulted in two votes in favour from the Greens, and 53 against from all the other parties in the chamber.
The SDLP motion ultimately failed, with eight votes for and 48 against.