By Claire Tennyson

PROPOSALS to reduce the fee charged to ratepayers on low incomes who wish to make complaints about high hedges have been shot down by Castlereagh Council.

Alliance member Carole Howard proposed that a lump sum payable in advance by anyone who wants the Council to investigate their hedge complaint should be cut for older members of the community and those claiming benefits. However, the DUP, UUP and SDLP rejected it – although they agreed to review the matter in six months time.

A flat  fee of £360 will continue to be charged for all those who wish to make complaints about high hedges, regardless of their ability to pay. After the Council does its work, the fee is refunded if the complaint is upheld and the Council recovers its costs from the hedge owner.

Councillor Howard said she believed there should be reduced fees for the elderly and those on low incomes to ensure that people  with genuine concerns about high hedges are not deterred from complaining by the high cost. Cllr Howard said she couldn’t understand why the other parties had rejected the Alliance motion.

She said: “At the Technical Services meeting this month, we put forward the idea of introducing lower rates for two groups, the elderly and those on benefits. But unfortunately the unionists and the SDLP opposed our proposal.

“Given that Castlereagh has a high proportion of elderly people, and we have a good record of supporting them, we are disappointed at this response but will continue to argue for change when the matter is reviewed in six months.”

The party also suggested people in lower income groups should be given the option to pay the complaint fee in instalments, but this was also rejected.

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