CASTLEREAGH Council has issues with planning applications, of that there can be no doubt.
The monthly meeting was once again bogged down with the usual problems of disputed alterations to buildings, bringing the local democratic process to a grinding halt as councillors gave their views on various applications an airing.
Take the first 20 minutes in the chamber, which was devoted to the planned extension of a church vestry in Dundonald. Not exactly riveting political debate, but then again, it’s what local government is all about at the end of the day.
Of course, planning applications can range from the mundane, as mentioned, to the more relevant, such as the long-running disagreement over the future of a planned community centre in Carryduff, which to the outrage of several local representatives, has disappeared from an application for social housing.
Oaklee Homes are in line to build a brand new housing development just north-west of the Killynure Road , which will see 61 new family homes erected, along with four apartments, providing much-needed accommodation for the area, which sits on the outskirts of South Belfast. However, it is the lack of a community centre facility in the application that has been raising hackles for some time, as Alliance councillor Geraldine Rice succinctly put it: “There’s a lot of controversy around this.”
Yet others are keen for the development to go ahead, with or without said centre, including the SDLP’s Brian Hanvey, who told the chamber: “These houses are long overdue. I hope that the Planning Service will not hold back approval for this scheme. I want it up and running as soon as possible.”
It was left to DUP Councillor Myreve Chambers to sum up some of the feeling towards the housing association behind the disputed application.
“It’s wrong for them to leave us without the community centre; you can’t promise something one day and take it away the next.”
At least the bread and butter politics of planning has the ability to make local politicians, often deeply divided on the obvious issues, forget their grievances and come together in almost touching shows of support. Indeed, another issue which had the reps chattering animatedly into their mics was the potential problems over streamlining certain applications, and such was the agreement in the chamber that japes regarding an “outbreak of peace” could be heard, and if I’m not mistaken, one wily rep even called for a “group hug”. It brings a tear to the eye, and shows that to bridge the divide between the two communities here, your best bet is to apply to build a phone mast on that very bridge, then sit back and watch the peace happen.