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Belfast Blog

Noise Complaint Statistics For Northern Ireland

Noise complaints received by district councils between 1 April 2016 and 31 March 2017 have risen by 13%, according to a report by the Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs released today.

A total of 12,105 were received in 2016/17 compared to 10,754 the previous year. The report, Noise Complaint Statistics for Northern Ireland 2016-2017, finds that domestic noise remains the largest cause of noise complaints across the province. Eighty percent of noise complaints relate to noise from domestic premises. Of these complaints, 43% relate to loud music, televisions and parties, and 37% to animal noise.

The report finds the second largest contributor to noise complaints to be commercial and leisure premises with noise from entertainment premises accounting for just under half (48%) of the complaints in this category. This year noise in the street represented 4% of noise complaints with industrial and transport noise complaints each accounting for 2% of the total complaints received.

The 13% rise in complaints does not necessarily equate to worsening noise pollution. The increase may be due to individuals becoming more susceptible to noise or more aware of who they should complain to when they experience noise problems. Councils have a number of courses of action open to them when dealing with noise complaints. Informal warnings are frequently used but formal options include service of a notice, prosecution and seizure of noise making equipment.

Education, through the Noise Statistics Report, activities during Noise Action Week and the general work of district councils, is considered the most appropriate way of preventing noise issues.

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Friday, 26th January 2018 17:47


POLICE OMBUDSMAN APPEAL FOLLOWING FATAL COLLISION

The Police Ombudsman has issued an appeal for witnesses who saw any interaction between police officers and a young couple before a fatal traffic collision near Toome at the weekend.

Shannon McQuilllan, who was 19, died after being struck by a vehicle on the Moneynick Road at about 3.45am on Saturday.

21-year-old Owen McFerran, who was with her at the time, was also hit by the vehicle and remains in a serious condition in hospital.

Please PRAY for OWEN and please help the Police Ombudsman with any information you have!

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Tuesday, 23rd January 2018 16:40


NI Pothole Misery

BBC NI has just published figures showing that almost half a million pounds in the past two years has been paid in compensation to motorists whose vehicles were damaged by potholes and other road defects.

The exact compensation payments totalled £495,358.04 according to the Department for Infrastructure (DfI).

It is shameful that our roads appear to get worse every year and that no-one in the NI Executive or DfI is ever held accountable. Even by DfI standards it cannot be hard to work out that failing to repair roads will lead to further claims and at some point they will actually have to find the cash and repair the road.

Potholes do not simply damage cars they have the potential to send a car or even larger vehicle out of control with the potential for loss of life. We all know that many people simple do not claim for the damage to their cars caused by our roads and so can assume that the number of damaged vehicles and associated cost is much higher, but do we know what part the poor state of Northern Ireland's roads play in accidents, injury of deaths. Statistically one would assume that it is likely someone will be injured or killed should DfI fail to take action, the question is who will be held accountable given the foreseeable consequences of failing to repair these roads and the actual decision not to do so?

The fact that DfI only released they figures under the Freedom of Information Act when the NI Executive collates and releases many different sets of statistics each year, is shameful, perhaps its because these figures show them in a bad light and the others do not?

With DfI also indicating that in 2017 more than 78,000 surface defects were recorded on nearly 16,400 stretches of road across Northern Ireland, the only advice we can give is drive safe!

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Monday, 22nd January 2018 17:45


£350,000 Comber Greenway Widening Scheme

Work on a £350,000 widening scheme for the Comber Greenway is scheduled to commence on 18 January 2018.

The scheme will widen the existing Greenway between Holywood Arches and East Link Road, enhancing the experience for walkers and cyclists on this popular route.

The Department has carefully programmed the work to take place in phases with the first section stretching from Holywood Arches to Sandown Road.

For health and safety reasons each section will need to be closed to the public while the work takes place. However, diversionary routes have been identified and will be signposted in order to minimise any inconvenience to the public.

The first phase should be finished by mid-February with the full scheme expected to be completed by the end of March 2018.

The planned dates for the scheme are subject to favourable weather conditions and the Department will keep the public informed of any change.

Join in the online conversation on this story @Simply_Belfast

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Wednesday, 17th January 2018 15:43


Personal Independence NI Independent Review

Individuals and organisations who have information or experience of how the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment process is working in Northern Ireland are being asked to share their views as part of the Independent Review.

The Review by Walter Rader will look at the operation of the PIP assessment since its introduction in June 2016.

This call for evidence is aimed at organisations and individuals who have information that is relevant to how the PIP assessment process is working for both new claims and Disability Living Allowance (DLA) reassessment claims.

This is one of several methods that will be used to gather information during the review. It will be used to help inform the Independent Reviewer’s conclusions and recommendations.

More information and details of how to respond are available at https://www.communities-ni.gov.uk/consultations/pip-independent-review-assessment-process-northern-ireland

The deadline for responses is Friday 16 March.

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Tuesday, 16th January 2018 15:38


NI Winter Shut Down

We were assured on the 15th January by the Department for Infrastructure that the winter safety service was ready to keep people moving. Yet we had hardly hit early evening last night before the first of many reports came through of cars in difficulty.

Whilst we all respect the hard work of the gritting teams and coordinators, most of which are part time and seasonal staff, the department itself should hang its head in shame that Belfast had to cancel its bus services due to a little bit of snow, ice and cold!

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Tuesday, 16th January 2018 15:41


Northern Ireland 2017 / 2018 Finances

The Department of Finance today confirmed the final reallocations to key public services in 2017-18 of £23.3million of Resource DEL and £10.1million of Capital DEL.

Ongoing engagement with departments has identified a number of reduced requirements and some adjustments to centrally held items which can now be reallocated.

On Resource DEL, the Department of Education will receive an additional £14million, £6million to support Special Educational Needs and £8million to facilitate access to school surpluses accumulated in prior years. The Department for Infrastructure will receive an increase of £9.3million that will contribute to addressing Translink’s in-year deficit.

On Capital DEL, the Department for Infrastructure will receive £8.1million to support Roads Structural Maintenance and the procurement of new buses by Translink. The Department for Communities will receive £1.6million to support maintenance of the social housing stock, whilst The Executive Office will receive £0.4million to support infrastructure works as part of the ongoing redevelopment of the Ebrington project.

In November it was announced that £20million of the £50million Resource funding available to support immediate pressures in health and education in the annex to the Confidence and Supply Agreement would be accessed in this year, with access to any further such funding in 2017-18 remaining under review. The Department can now confirm that the remaining £30million will not be accessed in 2017/18. Whilst Treasury have confirmed that the £30million can be reprofiled into 2018/19 on top of existing Budget Exchange arrangements, access to this funding requires the approval of both Parliament and the Assembly.

These final reallocations of resources in 2017-18 will facilitate preparations for a further Budget Bill and Spring Supplementary Estimate to provide departments with the legal authority to spend in line with the revised allocations proposed.

The Northern Ireland Budget Act 2017 was passed in Westminster on 16 November providing the details of departmental spending allocations in 2017-18.

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Monday, 15th January 2018 15:34


Planning Permission Refused For Lisburn Quarry

Full planning permission for a large quarry on land between the Saintfield Road and the Creevy Road near Lisburn in County Down has been refused.

The proposal was for the excavation of 500,000 tonnes of gritstone per annum from a 9.6 hectare area through drilling and blasting. The proposal also involved a new access to the Saintfield Road, a compound area with car parking, office, canteen, laboratory, wheel wash and weighbridge and storage shed and the formation of visual screening bunds with flooding of the quarry void at the end of 20 year extraction period to form a lake at 130 Saintfield Road, Lisburn, Co Down, BT27 6YW.

The Department has today published the independent report and recommendations prepared by the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) following a public local inquiry into the proposal held in March/April 2017.

The PAC report includes full consideration of the planning issues and recommends that planning permission is refused. Importantly, the report found that there was unacceptable uncertainty about the impact on people’s living conditions and amenity as a result of noise from the proposed operations. The economic benefits of the proposal were not considered to outweigh or override the well founded objections to the proposal.

In arriving at the final decision the Department carefully considered and agreed with the independent report and recommendations.

The Department remains cognisant of its statutory duty to process planning applications and reach decisions on planning related matters. On that basis, the Department believes that it is in the public interest to take this decision without further delay. The Department will continue to apply these principles to other decisions as and when they are ready to be taken.

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Monday, 15th January 2018 15:36


Former Mother And Baby Homes Research

Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw has welcomed news research is to be carried out into the operation of former mother and baby homes and Magdalene laundries in Northern Ireland.

The research will be carried out by Queen’s and Ulster universities, and is expected to take a year. It will cover the period 1922 to 1999.

“This is welcome news and I know the two academic institutions will carry out the research with the utmost diligence,” said South Belfast MLA Ms Bradshaw.

“However, through working with the Birth Mothers and their Children for Justice Northern Ireland group, I believe the only logical conclusion from this research will be the recommendation for a full public inquiry.

“The most important thing is all of this are the victims and survivors. They need nothing less than the full justice they are entitled to.”

Join in the online conversation on this story @Simply_Belfast

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Thursday, 11th January 2018 15:31


David Ford Criticises Move To Demolish Church

David Ford has criticised moves to demolish Straid Congregational Church over the weekend.

He said: "I understand the church has been considered for listing and in that context, to start the demolition process late on Friday night gives the impression that work is being done to get round a possible listing order.

"While this might be strictly legal, it has created concern among many residents of Straid Village and calls into question the way Church authorities have behaved.”

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Saturday, 6th January 2018 15:29


Employment and Support Allowance Payment Infomation

A technical issue in the benefits computer system means some Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) customers will receive weekly payments instead of their normal fortnightly payments.

This affects customers due a fortnightly payment on Monday 15 January 2018. Instead, these customers will receive two weekly payments, on Monday 8 and 15 January.

No one will miss out on a payment and customers do not need to take any further action. However, customers should take account of this split in payments while planning their financial needs and budget accordingly.

It is expected that less than 10% of ESA claimants (up to 11,000 claimants) may be affected.

Normal fortnightly payments will resume on 29 January.

The Department for Communities apologises for any inconvenience caused.

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Friday, 5th January 2018 15:24


NI Needs Thousands Of New Homes Across Belfast

There is a need for 66,000 new houses across Belfast by 2035, Alliance Councillor David Armitage has said.

Councillor Armitage was speaking during a motion he brought at Belfast City Council last night (Wednesday). The motion, which went to Committee without debate, called on statutory agencies to review their land ownership to help identify any surplus land suitable for housing. Consideration would then be given to making the land available to meet identified need.

“Housing is the key to lift people out of poverty. It can be the catalyst to improve the health, especially mental health, of communities, while eradicating inequalities and creating a more dynamic and confident city,” said Councillor Armitage.

“Belfast is a city for all and its housing should meet the needs of its citizens. Estimates are 66,000 people will need homes to be built by 2035. To do this in a way which provides good living space, creates a positive community and caters for wellbeing, Belfast City Council needs to set the agenda in a clear and practical way.

“I am calling on all agencies within this city to work with us so this can be achieved, and Belfast and its citizens can benefit. If any agency has any land which can be utilised for housing, whether social, affordable or private, within the city boundaries, then we should aim to use it for shared housing for all, regardless of community background, race, ethnicity or religion.”

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Thursday, 4th January 2018 17:38


Department for Communities NI Recognises Wide Spread Proverty?

Its hard to know whether Northern Ireland is worse run by civil servants or by elected politicans, but it is telling that in the absence of an elected NI Assembly that NI civil servants have taken it upon themselves to assist the introduction of our first 'social supermarkets' aimed at helping people living in food poverty. The terminology has me baffled, is there an actual different between poverty and food poverty, surely if you can't afford to eat, you're in poverty? The scheme is being funded by the Department for Communities (DfC) to the tune of about £70,000 to each of the five shops due to open in Londonderry, Belfast, Coleraine, Lisburn and Strabane and which will be run by five community organisations. The supermarkets will then sell cheaper than usual products to people receiving welfare payments and tax credits. Normally, the people in NI would be up in arms that the poor some of whom are on benefits and some of which are actually in work, are now faced with tow options, go hungary or presumably seek a DfC referral, so they can visit Northern Ireland's new 'Poor House' to get discounted food? It is disturbing that DfC NI and other organisations including a Housing Association appear to find such a scheme acceptable. Given that the stock for these shops is reportedly being supplied by food charity Fareshare, an organisation who distributes surplus food from mainstream supermarkets, suppliers and manufacturers to charities, is this scheme actually charging the poor for food given to them? In BBC NI's report they state that 'customers will also agree to take part in a range of skill-building programmes including money management, cooking and personal development' - I don't know if I am the only person in Northern Ireland to find this whole scheme distatseful or a disgrace, if I am then I am happy to stand alone - but this is not a good news story of helping the poor, it is a disgrace that we have fallen so far, driven so many into poverty and dispair, that we are nolonger surprised or ashamed for it is the Norm. We must all remember just how close we are to poverty and look more closely at the 'Poor Houses' being built for us! With the first 'Poor House' supermarket to open to in February lets end with and examine closely the words of a DfC spokeswoman speaking about the supermarkets, the scheme will give people "access to food on condition that they take up the other services that will help them move out of poverty".

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Thursday, 4th January 2018 17:40


High Sheriff Of Belfast Appointed

Alliance Councillor Carole Howard has been appointed High Sheriff of Belfast for 2018.

The Lisnasharragh Councillor takes up the role for the next 12 months, becoming the first Alliance representative to hold the post since 2000. The position as the Queen’s judicial representative in Belfast, was confirmed after formal approval from the Secretary of State.

Councillor Howard has served as an Alliance Councillor since 2011, being Deputy Chair of the Council’s City Regeneration and Growth Committee and is also current Chair of the Belfast District Policing and Community Safety Partnership.

“I am delighted to officially become High Sheriff of Belfast. It is a role that is for all the people in the city,” she said.

“This position only became available after Alliance pushed for it to become more inclusive than it had been over the past two decades. It is important all civic posts are as representative of the wider community as possible and with High Sheriff now being allocated on the d’Hondt mechanism for all parties who are able to and wish to nominate for it, that is the case.

“Alliance is committed to inclusion and equality, and securing this change in how the Council’s top posts are distributed is evidence of that. I am excited to showcase Belfast and help promote the important message from Alliance Lord Mayor Nuala McAllister of a Global Belfast, while representing everyone across the city.”

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Monday, 1st January 2018 17:37


NI Youth Justice Agency Raises £23,000 For Action Cancer

Youth Justice Agency staff have raised a magnificent £23,000 for Action Cancer – their chosen charity for 2017.

A cheque for £23,052.65 was presented to the charity at a Youth Justice Agency (YJA) staff celebration in Parliament Buildings in Belfast today.

The money was raised during the Action Cancer Shops’ Challenge which saw YJA staff from Belfast, Londonderry, Cookstown, Enniskillen and Bangor get behind the counter of their local Action Cancer shops for a day.

Declan McGeown, Chief Executive of the Youth Justice Agency, said: “This really is a tremendous achievement and one which we should all take great pride in. Our staff teams are very much a part of the local community and work on a daily basis with local people who are impacted by the great work of Action Cancer.

“The Shops’ Challenge was an excellent opportunity for us to support our local communities and raise funds for Action Cancer.

“I was also delighted that our collective efforts were recognised with four awards presented to our staff by Action Cancer.”

Katherine Young, Retail Development Officer from Action Cancer added: “The Shops’ Challenge provides a unique opportunity for Action Cancer Retail to engage with local organisations. Every penny raised during the challenge stays within Northern Ireland to provide free services to local people including; breast screening to women aged 40-49 and 70 plus and complementary therapies and counselling to anyone impacted by cancer.

“We are absolutely delighted by the magnificent sum of money raised by the Youth Justice Agency and would like to thank everyone involved for their commitment and support to Action Cancer this year.”

Check out the Youtube video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HiXYIYjHQJE

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Wednesday, 20th December 2017 17:32


Further PSNI Cuts Would Be Reckless

Any proposals to further cut the PSNI budget have been described as ‘reckless and irresponsible’ by the Police Federation for Northern Ireland.

Under a ‘budget preparation exercise’ by senior civil servants, the PSNI stands to lose £14 million in funding on top of the £180 million already lopped off the budget in the past four years. The proposed cut to the PSNI budget could be in the region of 2% which equates to annual funding for 280 Officers.

This flies in the face of a Home Office announcement that an additional £450m in extra funding will be made available to police forces in England and Wales.

PFNI Chairman, Mark Lindsay, has strongly criticised any attempt to make the PSNI ‘the financial scapegoat’.

Mr Lindsay said: “I cannot believe senior civil servants would actually countenance such a reckless and irresponsible move. We’re already cut to the bone – there’s nothing else to give – yet once again Policing appears to be the financial scapegoat.

“We’re already facing tough times with planned recruitment falling way behind what’s required. Hundreds of Officers are entitled to retire in the first half of 2018, and if this headlong dash to balance the books isn’t stopped in its tracks, it’s possible we will see the PSNI reduce in size to below 6,000 for the first time.

“This is a worrying development and one we will resist. We have a severe terrorist threat to our Officers, more complex crime and intolerable workplace pressures on Officers. Police officer pay has still not been addressed by the Department of Justice, despite PSNI being part of the same negotiating framework as England and Wales.

“There seems to be a failure to deal sensibly and urgently with Police funding in Northern Ireland at a time when we are witnessing the negative effects budget cuts have had on Policing nationally. Police forces in England and Wales are able to carry over savings from previous financial years, whereas the PSNI have to hand back any efficiencies they make to the Department and, in effect, have no “reserve”. Additional revenue can also be raised in England and Wales through local council taxes, which is not an option for Police funding in Northern Ireland.

“The PSNI is also under pressure to deal with an increasing number of unfunded legacy matters, which add significantly to unique financial pressures which are being loaded onto the organisation.

“This suggestion of a further cut in the PSNI allocation needs to be consigned to the bin. There must be full realisation that a modern-day Police Service needs to be properly resourced.

“Instead of brutal, poorly thought-out cuts, we need politicians and civil servants to go in to bat for the PSNI rather than acquiesce or prevaricate.”

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Wednesday, 20th December 2017 17:34


Temperature Drop Triggers NI Cold Weather Payments

A drop in temperature across parts of Northern Ireland has triggered the first of this winter’s Cold Weather Payments.

A total of £393,000 will be paid to just under 16,000 people who qualify for the payment in the affected postcode areas which are BT24-BT26 and BT30-BT34.

These postcodes are aligned to the Katesbridge weather station and the Met Office has notified the Department that the trigger was reached over the seven day period from 8 December 2017 to 14 December 2017.

Only those qualifying customers living in these postcode areas will receive the £25 payment. The Department for Communities will make the payments automatically and there is no need to make a claim. Customers can expect to receive their payment on Wednesday 20 December 2017.

The Cold Weather Payment is available when the average temperature is recorded, or is forecast to be zero degrees centigrade or below, for a period of seven consecutive days.

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Tuesday, 19th December 2017 17:31


£3.9 million Additional investment For NI GP Services

The Department of Health has today announced a further investment of £3.9m in General Practice, with £1.7m to address changes in demography and £2.2m to uplift the GP contract by 1%.

The Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health, Richard Pengelly said: “The Department recognises that primary care and GP services are the bedrock of our health and social care system. This investment of a further £3.9m, follows earlier investment this year of £1.9m for elective care and £3.91m to continue the rollout of nearly 300 Practice Based Pharmacists.”

Mr Pengelly said: “Given the current difficult financial position, investing nearly £10m more in GP services, the largest additional investment in recent years, reflects the Department’s commitment to the continued development of sustainable and accessible primary care services centred on the needs of patients.”

Mr Pengelly added: “The Department is also introducing changes to the eligibility to the sickness leave scheme for GPs. It is estimated that these changes will save GPs more than £2.5m per year in sickness leave insurance premiums.”

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Monday, 18th December 2017 17:29


Sullivan Upper £2.9million Improvement Project

A new sports pavilion and synthetic hockey pitch at Sullivan Upper school in Holywood has been officially opened.

The project, which has been provided under the School Enhancement Programme, (SEP) has provided a 3G hockey pitch with floodlighting and a stand-alone two-storey pavilion including a gymnasium and space for drama and dance.

Speaking during the visit, the Permanent Secretary for the Department of Education, Derek Baker said: “These impressive new facilities provide much needed new and modern facilities that the pupils can benefit from now and into the future.

“I have no doubt this scheme will help improve pupils’ educational experience for many generations to come. In addition to the positive impact on education, investment in the schools estate continues to provide a welcome boost to the local construction industry.”

The School Enhancement Programme (SEP) is targeted to meet the immediate and pressing needs in schools where major capital works are not deemed deliverable. SEP projects cost between £500,000 and £4million.

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Friday, 15th December 2017 17:28


NI Landlord Registration Scheme

The Landlord Registration Scheme collects and maintains accurate information on landlords and their properties. By law, all private landlords in Northern Ireland must register with the Landlord Registration Scheme.

The Landlord Registration Scheme was introduced in February 2014 and registration lasts for three years. It aims to improve tenants’ confidence in their landlords and increase landlord accountability by promoting good practice and ensuring appropriate advice and assistance is available.

Landlords will now be sent a renewal email notification eight weeks prior to registration expiring. This is sent to the email address a landlord used at the time of registration. Landlords should check their inbox or spam folder for this email and are reminded to keep their details on the Landlord Registration Scheme up to date and accurate.

Alternatively, landlords can check their registration certificate for the expiry date.

Further information and details on how to renew your registration is available at https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/landlord-registration-renewal

You pay one fee to register regardless of how many properties you own. The online registration fee is £70.00. The paper registration fee is £80.00.

By not renewing the registration while continuing to let properties, landlords are not complying with the law.

A landlord who does not register may face a fixed penalty of £500 or a court fine of up to £2,500.

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Wednesday, 6th December 2017 17:26


Public Health NI Facts

New prompt release of public health outcome statistics for NI, Health and Social Care Trust (HSC) and Local Government Districts.

The Department of Health today published the 2017 Public Health NI Fact Sheet. This annual publication presents the latest health outcome statistics for Northern Ireland and includes information on general health, mortality and health expectancies at NI, HSC Trust and Local Government District (LGD) levels.

Key Findings

Life expectancy in 2014-16 was 78.5 years for males and 82.3 years for females.

Male life expectancy ranged from 80.1 years in Lisburn and Castlereagh LGD to 76.0 years in Belfast LGD area, while female life expectancy ranged from 83.5 years in Lisburn and Castlereagh LGD area to 81.1 years in Belfast LGD area.

In 2014-16, healthy life expectancy at birth was 59.1 years for males and 60.9 years for females.

There were 15.9 suicide deaths per 100,000 population in 2014-16.

The suicide rate was highest in the Belfast HSC Trust (22.1 deaths per 100,000 population) and lowest in the Northern HSC Trust (12.6 deaths per 100,000 population).

In 2016/17, 17% of respondents scored highly (>4) on the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ12).

The preventable mortality rate stood at 205 deaths per 100,000 population in 2012-16.

In 2014/15–16/17 there were 2,170 admissions per 100,000 population due to circulatory disease, and 2,055 due to respiratory disease.

Smoking prevalence among adults stood at 20% in 2016/17, and four in five (80%) adults drank alcohol.

The under 17 teenage birth rate stood at 1.7 births per 1,000 population in 2016.

In 2016/17 there were 24.7 admissions to hospital per 100 population.

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Tuesday, 5th December 2017 17:25


£3.9 Million Victoria College Sports Hall

A new state-of-the art sports hall has been officially opened at Victoria College in Belfast.

The £3.9million investment in the school under the School Enhancement Programme provides much needed facilities to improve the school environment including a new sports hall with gymnasium, changing facilities and ancillary accommodation.

Speaking at the official opening, Permanent Secretary for the Department of Education, Derek Baker, said: “It is clear from looking at these excellent new facilities that the School Enhancement Programme is having very real benefits for our schools estate, providing much needed facilities and creating a better place in which pupils can learn and flourish.

“I am confident that the £3.9million investment will have a positive impact on pupils, teachers and school staff for generations to come and I wish everyone connected with Victoria College well for the future.”

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Thursday, 23rd November 2017 17:24


NI Benefit Fraud Conviction Overturned

A man has had his conviction for benefit fraud overturned in Coleraine Magistrates’ Court.

Reece Mullholland (23) of Hawthorn Place, Coleraine had the conviction overturned recently after previously being convicted of claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance and Housing Benefit of £860 that he was not entitled to.

This statement was issued by the DfC - You will note that unlike their other statements and press releases it is remarkably short! Where is the apology? Where is the compensation for distress caused? Where is the accountability? Two cases overturned in the same month, surely the Head of the DSS should be considering his position?

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Tuesday, 21st November 2017 17:22


NI Benefit Fraud Conviction Overturned

A man has had his conviction for benefit fraud overturned in Belfast Magistrates Court.

Mikulas Dancso (43) of Fingal Street, Belfast had the conviction overturned yesterday after previously being convicted of claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance and Housing Benefit of £9,834 that he was not entitled to.

This statement was issued by the DfC - You will note that unlike their other statements it is remarkably short! Where is the apology?

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Wednesday, 8th November 2017 17:21


NI Teaching Workforce Pilot Scheme

Thirty-one teachers will leave the profession under the Investing in the Teaching Workforce scheme. Departures will take place between December 2017 and March 2018.

Job opportunities for recently qualified teachers will be advertised by the Education Authority and the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) this week.

The aim of the pilot scheme is to refresh the teaching workforce by enabling the release of teachers aged 55 years and over whilst providing job opportunities for teachers who have qualified to teach in 2012 up to and including 2016.

An evaluation will be carried out to see if the anticipated benefits have been realised after which the Department will decide on next steps.

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Wednesday, 1st November 2017 17:19


Northern Ireland Projected Population

The population of Northern Ireland is projected to reach two million people by mid-2040. This is one of the findings of the statistics published today by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA).

The 25 year projections highlight that the Northern Ireland population is projected to increase to 2.003 million by mid- 2041, an average annual rate of growth of 0.3%. Natural growth is projected to be the main driver of this population increase of 141,300 people, with 127,300 more births projected than deaths.

The projections between mid-2016 and mid-2041 also point to:

A 5.8% reduction in the number of children (i.e. those aged 0 to 15 years), falling from 388,000 people to 365,400.

A 2.6% reduction in the number of those aged 16 to 64 years, falling from 1.176 million people to 1.146 million.

A 65.1% increase in the number of people aged 65 and over, rising from 297,800 people to 491,700. This marked increase, coupled with the projected reduction in the number of children, will see the number of people aged 65 and over exceeding the number of children from mid-2028 onwards.

The proportion of the population aged 85 and over will double from 2.0% to 4.1%.

The ratio of those aged 65 and over to those aged 16 to 64 increasing from 25 per 100 to 43 per 100.

While the overall growth in Northern Ireland will be lower than that is the rest of the UK (7.6% compared with 11.2%), our population is projected to age at a faster rate. For example, our number of people aged 85 and over is projected to grow by 127.2%, compared with 107.1% in the rest of the UK.

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Thursday, 26th October 2017 17:18


Northern Ireland Housing Executive Appointment Extended

The Department for Communities has extended the appointment of Professor Peter Roberts as Vice-Chair of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) from 5 November 2017 until a permanent Vice-Chair appointment is made by an incoming Minister.

Professor Roberts was appointed Vice-Chair on 5 November 2012 and is the current Interim Chair of NIHE.

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Wednesday, 25th October 2017 17:14


South Belfast Resident Parking Scheme

Works to implement a Resident’s Parking scheme in the Rugby Road/College Park Avenue area of south Belfast are due to commence next month.

The scheme, which will come into operation in January 2018, will include a combination of parking spaces for residents and pay and display spaces.

A Department for Infrastructure spokesperson said: “Residents of south Belfast have long voiced their concerns about parking in their local area. This scheme has been developed in consultation with local residents, including the College Park Avenue and Rugby Road Residents’ Associations. It will help address the long standing parking problems in this area.

“The College Park Avenue / Rugby Road scheme will provide 117 parking spaces for residents and 119 pay and display parking spaces for residents and businesses. These spaces will be supplemented with short stay parking spaces on Rugby Road and a loading bay in Carmel Street to facilitate local businesses.

“The spaces will be provided along a number of streets in south Belfast, including part of Carmel Street, College Green, College Park, College Park Avenue, Rugby Parade, Rugby Road, Rugby Street and part of University Avenue.”

The spokesperson continued: “Local residents and businesses will be able to apply for Resident’s Parking permits for their properties. An application pack will be provided to eligible properties within the scheme. This pack will contain advice on how the scheme will operate and an application form".

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Tuesday, 24th October 2017 17:12


Northern Ireland Personal Independence Payment Statistics

The first official statistics for Personal Independence Payment in Northern Ireland, was published by the Department for Communities today.

These statistics are classed as experimental. Experimental statistics are new official statistics undergoing evaluation. They are published in order to involve users and stakeholders in their development and as a means to build in quality at an early stage.

Unless stated otherwise, the figures are from June 2016 to July 2017. Key findings include:

As at July 2017, almost 60,000 PIP claims had been registered.

There were 43,000 claims cleared to July 2017 with 22,450 (53%) being awarded PIP at the initial decision.

The award rate (based on initial decision) for New Claims overall has been 41%, while the award rate for DLA Reassessed claims has been 64%. The overall award rate is currently 53%.

The average (median) clearance time, from the date a claim is registered to the initial decision being made, was 13 weeks.

Almost 24,000 claimants were in receipt of PIP at July 2017.

The volume of DLA Reassessed claimants in receipt of PIP was 14,810 at July 2017.

Over a quarter (29%; 7,030) of claimants are awarded the enhanced rate for both the daily living and mobility components.

Psychiatric Disorders (39%; 9,220) is the most prominent main disabling condition.

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Wednesday, 11th October 2017 17:11


Northern Ireland Civil Service Sickness Absences

The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) today published the report “Sickness Absence in the Northern Ireland Civil Service 2016/2017”. This is their seventeenth annual report on sickness absence and it contains analyses of trends over the last five years.

The key findings are as follows:

The headline absence figure for 2016/2017 was 12.4 days (average days lost per staff year), an increase from 11.7 days in the previous year and the highest it has been in the last five years.

The 12.4 days lost per staff year represented 5.6% of the available working days in 2016/2017. In salary terms, this equated to an estimated £32.7million of lost production - the same as in 2015/2016. This is equivalent to around 3.8% of the total NICS pay bill in 2016/2017.

Just under half (49.5%) of staff had no recorded absence in 2016/2017 though approximately one in every eight staff had at least one spell of long-term absence lasting around three months on average. This was the highest level of long-term absence observed in the last five years, and accounted for more than three quarters of all working days lost.

Anxiety/Stress/Depression/Other Psychiatric Illnesses was the absence reason that accounted for the greatest proportion of working days lost (35.2%) during 2016/2017. Within this category, work-related stress accounted for a third of the days.

The level of absence within Departments varied from 7.9 days for the Executive Office to 15.3 days for the Department of Justice (DoJ). DoJ was, however, the only Department to record lower absence levels this year compared to last.

The absence level for females (14.7 days) remained higher than that for males (10.4 days) with over half of this difference being due to gender-specific conditions.

Staff who had been in post for under two years had a much lower level of sickness absence (3.0 days) than staff who had been employed for two years or more (12.6 days). Around three quarters of the staff employed for under two years would have been on probationary terms and conditions, which would include the more stringent management of sickness absence.

The report is available on the NISRA website at: https://www.nisra.gov.uk/statistics/ni-civil-service-human-resource- statistics/sickness-absence-statistics

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Wednesday, 20th September 2017 17:09


NI Legislation Changes For Special Events On Roads

New legislation to allow special events to be held on roads is now in place.

Until now roads have been closed by police using general policing powers. This new legislation provides the relevant authority the power to authorise and approve, by order, the holding of a special event such as a street party or sporting event on a road.

In most cases, the relevant authority will be the District Council in which the road is located. The exceptions being any event proposed for a special road, which are mainly motorways, for which the Department for Infrastructure is responsible.

The Department has worked closely with District Councils and the PSNI in the preparation of guidance to assist in the implementation of the legislative change.

Prospective applicants for events should contact their local council to explore the possibility of holding an event.

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Tuesday, 5th September 2017 17:08


Northern Ireland Plastic Bag Levy Statistics

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs has published the Northern Ireland carrier bag levy annual statistics for 2016/17.

This statistical report is updated annually and the published statistics relate to the carrier bag levy that commenced on 8 April 2013. The figures relate to the number of bags dispensed by retailers in Northern Ireland between 1 April 2016 and 31 March 2017 as notified to the Department by 30 June 2017. It is available at: https://www.daera- ni.gov.uk/publications/carrier-bag-levy-annual-statistics.

The key points are:

During the fourth year of operation, 99.9 million bags were dispensed by retailers under the carrier bag levy in Northern Ireland.

This was 1.2% lower than the previous year, with 1.3 million fewer bags dispensed.

The number of carrier bags dispensed in 2016/17 is markedly lower than the baseline figure prior to the introduction of the levy, which, for 2012 was estimated at 300 million bags. Year four of the 5p levy saw a reduction in bag numbers of 67% compared to the 2012 baseline.

The proceeds of the levy for 2016/17 totalled £5.0million, a reduction of £0.2million) from the previous year. Proceeds are taken from audited Departmental financial accounts and are not Official Statistics. They cannot be calculated from bag usage figures due to differences in timing and recording.

Further information:

The statistical report containing more detail can be accessed via the DAERA website: https://www.daera- ni.gov.uk/publications/carrier-bag-levy-annual-statistics.

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Thursday, 24th August 2017 17:06


NI Penalty Charge Notice Statistics Published

The Penalty Charge Notice Statistics January to June 2017 report is now available. This report presents data on Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs) issued in Northern Ireland during January to June 2017 for vehicles found to be parked in contravention of parking restrictions and vehicles detected driving in contravention of bus lanes. This 2nd quarter bulletin concentrates on the figures from April to June 2017.

This is the third such report produced by the Analysis, Statistics and Research Branch (ASRB) of the Department for Infrastructure (DfI). The publication is available on the ASRB website at: https://www.infrastructure- ni.gov.uk/articles/penalty-charge-notice-statistics

Key Points

The key points from the report are:

During April to June 2017

On-street parking: 22,991 PCNs were issued in Northern Ireland of which just over two-fifths (43%) were issued in Belfast.

Off-street parking: 9,090 PCNs were issued in Northern Ireland. This ranged from a high of 1,204 (13%) in Fermanagh and Omagh Council to a low of 199 (2%) in Antrim and Newtownabbey Council.

Bus lanes and bus-only streets: 5,188 PCNs were issued for moving traffic offences in Greater Belfast. More than a third (36%) of these contraventions occurred on Donegall Square East, just under a fifth (18%) on Great Victoria Street and a further 17% on College Square East.

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Thursday, 17th August 2017 17:05


PSNI Officer Disciplined

A police officer has been disciplined after a Police Ombudsman investigation found that he had used “excessive and unjustified” force when he kicked a man during an incident in Belfast in July 2015.

The officer was with three colleagues when they called at the man’s flat at 5 a.m. to arrest him for failing to turn up for a court hearing. After receiving no response the officers forced entry to the property and located the man, who was in bed with his then six-month pregnant girlfriend.

The man admitted that he was verbally abusive towards the officers, but denied offering any physical resistance. He was handcuffed to the rear and taken to wait on an elevator.

He claimed that when the lift arrived, one of the officers kicked him on the side and said “get the f**k in there you.”

A Police Ombudsman investigator obtained CCTV footage from the flat complex which confirmed that the officer had kicked the man, albeit not viciously.

When later interviewed, the officer described the kick as a “distraction blow” and said it was a reaction to the man claiming to have HIV and threatening to spit at the officers.

The man denied this, and said that in any case he did not have HIV.

The Police Ombudsman investigator said: “Having closely examined the CCTV footage, it was clear to me that it supported the man’s account, not the officer’s.

“Police officers were standing in front of the man throughout the incident, but none made any movements to avoid or prevent being spat upon.

“The demeanour of the officer who aimed the kick was also relaxed, and at odds with his description of reacting to a threat."

In addition, enquiries were made with the PSNI’s training department, which confirmed that if there had been a threat of spitting, the use of a kick was “a poor tactical decision.”

The other three officers denied having seen the kick.

The Police Ombudsman investigator said: “I am satisfied that the man posed no immediate threat to the officers. It was not a vicious kick, but it was nonetheless unjustified and an excessive use of force.”

A file was sent to the Public Prosecution Service, which directed that the officer should not be prosecuted.

However, the investigator considered that the lower evidential threshold for disciplinary action had been reached and recommended that the officer should be disciplined for using excessive force.

The PSNI has since implemented the recommendation and the officer received an appropriate misconduct sanction.

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Thursday, 3rd August 2017 17:03


NI Employment Tribunal Ruling

Fees for those bringing employment tribunal claims have been ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court, and the government will now have to repay up to £32m to claimants.

Commenting on the changes Rachel Penny, a partner in Carson McDowell’s employment team, said:

“The Supreme Court handed down a very important judgment today, ruling that the government unlawfully introduced fees for claimants wishing to pursue claims in employment tribunals.

“While this is an issue that does not directly affect Northern Ireland, because our local assembly chose not to introduce a similar regime, the changes will still have relevance to those Northern Ireland based employers who have operations in Great Britain.

“The fees regime, introduced in 2013, required a payment of up to £1,200. It had an immediate and dramatic impact on the number claims brought in Great Britain, with an estimated reduction of 70 per cent.

“Now the Supreme Court has ruled that the fees regime is unlawful, and has quashed it with immediate effect. The government will have to reimburse all fees paid. The court said that the regime prevented access to justice, disproportionately affected women and thus was discriminatory.

“There is widespread acceptance among lawyers in Great Britain that the government simply “got it wrong” and the fees were set at far too high a rate. The intention was to prevent unmeritorious claims and to make “users” of the tribunal system contribute to its costs. Evidence showed that the rates of unmeritorious claims stayed largely static and the Supreme Court has made abundantly clear that access to justice cannot be viewed purely through the lens of market economics.”

Signed: Source Carson McDowell

Posted: Wednesday, 26th July 2017 17:00


HMRC UK National Minimum Wage Changes

The government today announced an immediate but temporary halt to HMRC National Minimum Wage enforcement action in connection with “sleep in payments” in the care sector. Commenting on the changes Rachel Penny, a partner in Carson McDowell’s employment team, said:

“Historically, staff in, for instance, care homes who are required to perform a “sleep in shift” do not receive their normal hourly rate of pay for those “sleeping” hours. Instead they typically receive a flat rate of “sleeping” pay for that particular shift, usually around £25-£30 per shift.

“The reason they did not receive normal pay is because of the wording in the National Minimum Wage Act and regulations. Those rules provide that if the employee is given sleeping facilities at or near work, and is permitted to sleep, employers only have to count “waking” hours for the purposes of calculating minimum wage compliance.

“However, in what has been an increasingly grey area over recent years, we have observed a creeping change through case law in how that exemption has been interpreted. That culminated in April this year with a high profile decision of the Employment Appeals Tribunal in England, involving the charity Mencap. In that case, the court gave a clear steer that if the requirement to have staff present overnight - on hand to deal with emergencies but otherwise permitted to sleep - was a regulatory requirement, then the exemption was very unlikely to apply, although the court stressed that, as ever, each case depends specifically on its own facts.

“At the same time, HMRC has been taking a very pro-active approach to pursuing employers who might inadvertently have fallen foul of NMW for sleep in hours. Many organisations operating in the voluntary sector or reliant on public funding are suddenly facing the prospect of large sums of back pay and other penalties. There is anecdotal evidence that HMRC is requiring employers to look back up to six years.

“Today’s announcement effectively presses pause on the problem, while the government and the sector figures out what to do.

“This is not an easy problem to solve. It will require a tricky balance between paying employees what might be due to them, at the same time as making sure this does not push care providers to the brink of financial ruin. There has been lots of media speculation in recent weeks about the risk of bankruptcy, with consequent disruption to the care arrangements to scores of thousands across the UK.”

Signed: Source Carson McDowell

Posted: Wednesday, 26th July 2017 17:02


NI Consultation On Health Costs

The Department of Health has launched a public consultation on Proposed Changes to Eligibility Criteria for exemption from dental and ophthalmic costs and the remission of costs for travelling to and from hospital on referral following the introduction of Universal Credit.

The Department is proposing to introduce additional criterion to the Help with Health Costs Scheme based on receipt of Universal Credit and with associated earnings thresholds.

This consultation process is seeking views on the proposed additional eligibility criterion with the aim of ensuring those most in need receive this very important benefit. Until changes to the eligibility criteria are introduced, those receiving Universal Credit can apply to receive support through the Low Income Scheme.

This new criterion will eventually replace five existing welfare benefit based criteria. The five benefits will be phased out and replaced by Universal Credit by March 2022.

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Tuesday, 25th July 2017 16:58


NI School Uniform Grants

The Department of Education can confirm that funding for the clothing allowance (uniform grants) for the 2017/18 school year will remain at 2016 levels.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said: “This decision will allow the Education Authority to make payments to families at the existing rates. The Department continues to deal with major financial pressures and explore a range of measures which would allow it to live within the indicative 2017/18 budget. Following the Secretary of State’s written statement last week on Northern Ireland departments’ budget allocations, the Department has been able to finalise decisions on budget allocations across a range of programmes including deciding to maintain funding for the uniform allowance at current rates. The Department will be issuing allocation letters to relevant organisations in the coming days.”

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Tuesday, 25th July 2017 16:59


£275,000 Footway Scheme Church Road Castlereagh

A £275,000 footway scheme at Church Road, Castlereagh is due to commence on Monday 24 July 2017.

The scheme will provide 400 metres of new footway on Church Road between Manse Road and the Henry Jones Playing fields. This will improve local pedestrian access and enhance road safety, particularly for school children.

The Department for Infrastructure has programmed the works operations and traffic management arrangements to minimise inconvenience to the public. However, to ensure the safety of the public and contractors, it is necessary to close Church Road from 7.00am to 5.00pm daily from the 24 July to the 2 September. Local diversions will be in place and access to properties and amenities on Church Road will be maintained from Ballygowan Road.

Advance warning signs will be erected to advise motorists of the commencement of the work.

The above planned dates are subject to favourable weather conditions and the Department will keep the public informed of any change.

For traffic information and news of improvement schemes across Northern Ireland visit: www.trafficwatchni.com

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Thursday, 20th July 2017 16:57


Helmet Now Legal Requirement For NI Quad Bike Riders

Riders of four-wheel quad and all-terrain bikes are now required by law to wear a helmet when travelling on the public road network.

The Motor Cycles (Protective Headgear) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1999 which mandates the wearing of helmets for those who ride motor cycles, has been extended to those who ride motor quadricycles (quad bikes).

Those found in breach of the law can be fined up to £500.

The legislation is available online at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/nisr/2017/89/introduction/made

Signed: Belfast Blogger

Posted: Friday, 30th June 2017 16:54


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