Sunday opening debate over council facilities

Bruslee Recycling and Civic Amenity Site already operates on a Sunday.
Bruslee Recycling and Civic Amenity Site already operates on a Sunday.

A Glengormley-based councillor said the days of “chaining up the swings” would be back if some of the arguments from members of the council’s Operations Committee were carried through to their logical conclusion.

Alliance representative, Cllr John Blair made the comments as members of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council’s Operations Committee discussed an item regarding Sunday opening for Newpark Household Recycling Centre in Antrim.

During the meeting on Monday, January 9, a proposal was made for the centre to be opened between noon and 5pm on Sundays.

A number of committee members voiced their disapproval to the proposed change in opening hours.

Cllr Drew Ritchie said: “I am disappointed that Sunday opening hours are being put through. I go up to the recycling centre fairly often and I’ve never had anyone complain to me about it being closed on a Sunday.

Branding the proposal to open the facility on a Sunday “unnecessary”, the UUP representative added: “We have fairly extensive opening hours there already.

“I understand the rates are going to be similar, there won’t be an increase in rates. We seem to be happy to spend more money and to add to our services. I would be concerned that if rates stay stationary, we may not be able to give the service we are giving now.”

Calling the cost of the proposal into question, Cllr Ritchie’s party colleague, Cllr Mervyn Rea said: “Can I ask what additional cost this is going to be for the ratepayers? The staff- do they want to work on a Sunday? If they do, are they getting time in lieu and will they be getting additional pay for coming in on a Sunday?”

Ald John Smyth asked for clarification regarding the usage of Bruslee Recycling Centre, which operates on a Sunday. The DUP representative said: “My question would be about the usage of Bruslee on Sundays. What is the usage and how much does it cost? How will workers rights in relation to working on a Sunday be safeguarded?”

Commenting on the Newpark facility, he added: “The residents want it to be closed on a Sunday to have a bit of peace and quite. They don’t want vans and trucks coming in and banging away all the time- they like their Sunday’s to observe them.”

Ald Smyth’s party colleague, Cllr Matthew Magill said he would not be supporting the proposal. He said: “At this point in the process I’ll not be supporting the proposal regardless of views on Sunday or anything to do with that.

“We are some what jumping the gun with regards to the process we should be undertaking. It would be much more prudent to re-word the recommendation in that we begin the process of looking into this- a process which is quite lengthy and one which will have numerous hurdles and hoops to jump through.”

He added: “The wording of the proposal seems to be wanting to push the recommendation through at any cost and I don’t think that is necessarily a good vibe to be sending staff before we have even consulted in relation to identifying staffing resources for such a move.

“I think we would need to begin the process and the consultation period and then on the back of those findings, on the back of any visibility studies, that we make a decision based on what is before us.”

Responding to the points made by the committee members, Cllr Blair, who is not a member of the Operations Committee said: “I should thank the members for enlightening me that this is nothing other than the same old Sunday opening debate that we’ve had on other issues and to call it by any other name would be the biggest misnomer that any of us could be insulted with.

“It is somewhere in between rose-tinted glasses, wishful thinking and teetering on the brink of duplicity because for all of the concerns that the rates are going up from people who know that they’re not and all the concerns about an upset Sunday, which of course would be exactly the same as the upset on a Saturday which nobody objects to at all.”

He added: “In addition to that you have the issue of staff. That would be the same bunch of council employees who work in leisure centres, who work in parks and who do other special duties on a Sunday when there has been a special event.

“I didn’t hear any complaints about the clean-up after Garden Show Ireland and various other things. In actual fact this council has many staff working every Sunday and there might be a suggestion that if some of the arguments here were carried through to their logical conclusion, we really would be back in the business of chaining up the swings.

“I’m glad we’ve had enough debate here to highlight and expose what is really going on. The reality is that there is demand and if anybody’s unsure about it, they can look at the figures. If anybody’s going to doubt that, we are doubting the valued expressed opinions of our own ratepayers.”

Chair of the committee, Cllr Jim Montgomery read the proposal to the committee, before a vote was taken.

The UUP representative said: “The recommendation that approval is given for the proposed opening hours of the council’s recycling centre, subject to consultation with trade unions, where applicable, and all statutory obligations being met.”

The proposal was moved by Cllr Roisin Lynch and seconded by Cllr Neil Kelly. The recommendation was carried after seven members voted in favour, with five voting against.

The recommendation will now go to full council, where a final decision will be made.