Northern Ireland

Dual-language street sign plans put to ‘back of the queue’ rather than scrapped after majority of residents oppose applications

North Belfast streets met council threshold for bilingual signs, but most residents asked in survey said they did not want second nameplate

Sunningdale Park North in north Belfast will not have bilingual signage installed, but application will be reconsidered at a later date.
Sunningdale Park North in north Belfast will not have bilingual signage installed, but application will be reconsidered at a later date.

Plans to erect dual-language street signs featuring Irish in Belfast have been put to the “back of the queue” rather than scrapped after a majority of residents surveyed opposed them.

The applications for signs in two north Belfast streets had passed the threshold for the erection of bilingual signage under Belfast City Council’s policy that only requires 15 percent of residents being in favour.

Tensions arose at Belfast City Council’s People and Communities Committee this week as the plans for Sunningdale Park North off Ballysillan Road and Ben Madigan Park South, Cavehill were not scrapped following the results of a residents’ survey.

Last year unionist councillors objected to Sunningdale Park North residents being surveyed over a possible “negative impact on community relations”.

Just one resident of a street, or a councillor, is all that is required to trigger a street survey.

In Sunningdale Park North, 22 percent of occupiers were in favour of a second street name plate, 33 percent were not in favour, and one occupier had no preference either way.

A council committee report states: “An initial assessment for Sunningdale Park North was carried out by officers and potential adverse impacts were identified. A draft equality screening was carried out to assess the application for equality and good relations issues.

“The screening identified that the carrying out of the survey and the erection of the dual language street signs could cause community tension. An objection was also received by an elected member.”

A bi-lingual street sign at La Salle Drive in west Belfast. PICTURE COLM LENEGHAN
Bilingual signs can be installed in a Belfast street with the support of 15 percent of residents. PICTURE: COLM LENEGHAN (Colm Lenaghan)

In Ben Madigan Park South 23.18 percent were in favour of a second street name plate, while 26.08 percent were not, and the council report states: “One resident who does not support the dual language street sign has stated that the street name is already an Irish name, meaning the hill of the dogs.

“Two residents from one household who do not support the dual language street sign are concerned at the apparent lack of consultation with residents and that the threshold of 15 percent seems low.

“They are also concerned that the dual language signs may introduce uncertainties that could impact on property values and that the signs could become targets of vandalism, and the safety and security of the community could be compromised.

“This could detract from the area’s appeal and cohesion. The residents also enquired if a 15 percent quota would apply if residents wanted any decision reversed.

“Officers advised that there is no mechanism in the policy to remove the dual language street signs once they are approved.”

Alliance councillor for Balmoral and committee chair, Micky Murray, proposed not erecting new signs at both streets and “putting them to the back of the queue again.” The proposal was successful, and means both applications will be looked at again when all the current applications in the system are dealt with.

DUP councillor for Botanic, Tracy Kelly, said: “Instead of putting it to the bottom we should be scrapping it. I don’t see the point of asking people over and over again, when it is clear they don’t want it.”

Sinn Féin councillor for Black Mountain, Micheal Donnelly, said: “It is not actually accurate to say people in Sunningdale Park North don’t want dual language street signs.

“22 people took part who said they do want the street signs. It is inconclusive, and what we are saying is that with a bit of diplomacy we will look at these in the future.”

Mr Donnelly said: “Belfast City Council has a 15 percent threshold policy. The threshold has been met in Sunningdale Park North and also Ben Madigan Park South.

“What this committee is doing is showing a bit of maturity, that we are not just proceeding with the 15 percent policy here, and that we understand there are sensitivities in both of those streets, where the threshold has been met. But we are saying we will look at them again in the future.”

Seven other streets were approved for new Irish dual language street signs at the committee meeting.