By Scott Jamison

It was a night of firsts at this month’s meeting of Castlereagh Council.

It was the first time your reporter can remember being met with a smile by most councillors in the chamber, it was the first time he has seen a piece of correspondence on the agenda about the Irish language in the staunchly unionist borough and it was the first non-Christmas meeting on record as having finished quite early for a change.

Another piece of correspondence was from the WWF (no, the panda people) asking about the council’s support of Earth Hour, which aims to get people around the globe switching off non-essential electrical appliances for an hour to raise awareness on climate change.

It was rather fitting, because at the speed the agenda was being worked through, we wouldn’t even be there for an hour at this rate. The planning notices were reached in 15 minutes for a start, a speed at which even Usain Bolt would struggle to keep up with. The first few pages of the planning applications booklet were tackled with the same haste until we reached one about a street cabinet for the BT fibre optic infrastructure in Newtownbreda.

The SDLP’s Brian Hanvey took to his feet to pontificate about the “regularity of these applications over the past few months”.

“I want to know the reason behind the proliferation,” he asked/told/instructed the council’s planning service officer Dermot O’Kane.

“We seen them on the schedules more and more and want to know are we keeping an eye on them, given the council has expressed its concerns before?”

The answer informed Cllr Hanvey the Planning Service had received a large number of the applications from BT for its Infinity broadband service, which the company was upgrading, but they were largely made up of replacement cabinets.

That seemed to placate the councillor for the time being although if there happens to be another similar application next month, it might be enough to send the Carryduff representative over the edge.

Two refusals for fixed advertisement hoardings on the Saintfield Road was the only other thing to cause a stir in the chamber, with Gareth Robinson of the DUP admitting that although it was not his area, he would like to know on what grounds the applications failed.

The planning officer revealed that “scale, sign and proximity” to other structures nearby had been the main points, while adding that “the department shares the concerns of the councillors and are keen to enforce them. We can ask for additional resources but whatever councillors can do to support that would be appreciated”.

A chorus of “hear hear” from the benches was backing enough, and as the councillors sharpened their pitchforks ready for an assault on the Planning Service headquarters, your reporter took the opportunity to leave for the night, making sure to duck the flying pigs on the way out.

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