Belfast City Council forced to employ three new staff to implement dual language street sign plan

Belfast City Hall officials are working in a dual language signage applications.

By Michael Kenwood, Local Democracy Reporter

Belfast City Council is to employ three new staff dedicated solely to dealing with the large number of applications for dual language street signs.

Details emerged in a report compiled for a recent committee meeting at city hall.

The policy covering requirements for the erection of a street sign in a language other than English changed in July, following survey indicating support around 58%. Since then the council has received 500 requests for dual language signs and it is suspected the majority of these will be for Irish signs.

A report compiled for the council's Strategic Policy and Resources Committee, involving minutes of the most recent meeting of the Language Strategy Working Group discussed the details of the proposals. It stated: "Approval has been granted for three additional staff members to be recruited on a temporary basis who will be focused on dealing with the applications once recruited and trained. It is hoped these officers will be in post by December 2022." "The service is awaiting an appointment with the Electoral Office to get the details of residents in the first batch of 15 streets and is aiming to send out members notification in respect of these applications by October 3 2022. “This member notification process will replicate the process for notifying members in relation to planning applications that relate to their DEA or within the City Centre. "The purpose of the notification is to allow members to raise any potential adverse impacts on equality, good relations or rural needs in relation to the proposed street sign. That representation must be sent to the Director of Planning and Building Control within 21 days of the notification." "If either the elected member notification or the initial assessment identifies a potential adverse impact on equality, good relations or rural needs the application will be referred to the committee for approval to proceed to survey.

"The process for the initial assessment is being finalised but that assessment will initially include officers from Building Control, Good Relations, Equality and Diversity Unit and Legal Services." In July, councillors agreed the controversial new policy would finally be implemented ,18 months after the policy was originally agreed in the chamber. Sinn Fein, Alliance, the SDLP, the Green Party, and the People Before Profit Party all support the new street sign policy, while the three unionist parties, the DUP, UUP and PUP, are the new plans. Previously, 33.3% of the eligible electorate in any Belfast street had to sign a petition to begin the process, and 66.6% to agree to the new dual language sign on the street. The new policy means at least one resident of any Belfast street, or a councillor, is all that is required to trigger a consultation on a second nameplate, with 15% in favour being sufficient to erect the sign. Non-responses will no longer be counted as "against" votes, and there will be an equality assessment for each application. Belfast City Council is currently working on a draft Irish Language Policy and a dual language logo.

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