Belfast council spends £9,000 tackling Holylands disorder

St Patrick's Day in south Belfast's Holylands area earlier this year. Picture by Hugh Russell
Brendan Hughes

BELFAST City Council spent almost £9,000 tackling disorder in the mainly student Holylands area over the St Patrick's holiday period earlier this year.

The cost emerges as thousands of students return to the south Belfast neighbourhood for Freshers' events next week ahead of the new university term.

Residents have for years complained of anti-social behaviour caused by drink-fuelled students descending on the area.

They branded the annual spending "completely untenable" and called for an "overall regeneration strategy" to tackle the problem.

Freshers' week last year saw more than 300 anti-social behaviour incidents reported in the Holylands, with council officials confiscating more than 600 units of alcohol.

And over St Patrick's this year, police made 15 arrests in the Holylands and city centre for various public order offences.

The cost of the council's Holylands operations on March 16 and 17 over the past five years was obtained by The Irish News through a freedom of information request.

A total of £8,986 was spent earlier this year, and almost £40,000 from 2013 to 2017.

The operations included deploying community safety wardens, as well as noise and cleansing teams in a bid to tackle anti-social behaviour.

Brid Ruddy, of the College Park Avenue Residents' Association, warned the overall cost could be significantly higher when including other resources deployed such as policing.

"It's completely untenable. It's money wasted," she said, calling for an "overall regeneration strategy".

"I don't think the council needs to be spending £9,000 on an entirely predictable event, on something that they should be preventing from happening," she said.

Residents met with police, university and council officials on Tuesday as part of the Belfast Holylands Regeneration Association to discuss plans to combat issues during this year's Freshers' period.

Ms Ruddy expressed fears that Freshers' Week could bring a "crime wave" of anti-social behaviour, describing it as "groundhog day".

"Freshers' should be a time of young people having good experiences, and some of them do. It should be a positive time, but for us it's not a positive time," she said.

Alliance councillor Emmet McDonough-Brown said public bodies "must do more to support local residents".

"The cost of operations over St Patrick's Day represent one part of the council's engagement in the Holylands," he said.

"These interventions must be strategic if they are to be successful and I think statutory agencies must do more to support local residents.

"The total cost across statutory agencies must be considered to determine if we really are getting value for money."

Earlier this year The Irish News revealed the scale of binge-drinking and anti-social behaviour in the Holylands.

More than 30,000 alcohol units were seized by council officials in three years – the equivalent of around 15,000 cans of beer.

And more than 1,800 complaints of anti-social behaviour were made including drunkenness and verbal abuse.

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