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Council site inspection visits to recommence next week

21 May 2020
Site visits by officers from Building Control, Planning and Environmental Health Services at Derry City and Strabane District Council are set to resume on a limited basis from next week, elected members of Derry City and Strabane District Council were informed today.
 
Members were attending their weekly virtual briefing with senior Council officials to get an update on the Council’s service provision during the COVID-19 pandemic and were informed that the inspections would commence from 25 May, in accordance with the current Government guidance, where it is deemed safe to do so.
 
Members heard how Building Control inspections specifically, will be limited to external inspections with internal inspections limited to unoccupied properties and virtual inspections set to continue for occupied properties. Members were reassured that risk assessments and Safe Systems of Work had been carried out and each inspection would be considered on an individual basis and carried out when safe to do so.
 
It was also agreed to resume the Registration of Births at the Derry office from next Monday, by appointment only. A full update on the Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages Service was provided at the meeting, and members were informed while the registration of births had been suspended, parents were still able to avail of medical and child benefit services. The full service is set to resume from next Monday 25 May and will operate Monday to Saturday on an appointment basis only.
 
In terms of the registration of deaths, the public will continue to register them remotely without having to visit the offices, while those looking to avail marriage and civil partnerships, are being advised that wedding ceremonies can only be carried out in exceptional circumstances only.
 
Members were also given an update in relation to the current stance of capital projects, with a number still on hold and plans afoot for works to recommence in the coming weeks including the Bishop Street car park and Top of the Hill Community Centre projects, with work already started on the Shantallow Community Centre project.
 
It was outlined at the briefing that Household Recycling Centres at Donemana, Newtownstewart and Killen could possibly reopen to the public from next week, subject to a health and safety site visits, while the phased reintroduction of all materials across all sites remains under review.
 
Members heard how five centres were reopened to the public last Monday, and over 7,800 cars visited the sites over the past four days, 2,800 of which were on the first day, and 130 tonnes of waste disposed of. Members were reminded that access to the sites are limited to cars only and large vans or trailers are not permitted, with people being encouraged to continue to use their home refuse bins provided and the free bulky waste collection service and to refrain where possible from visiting the recycling centres during this emergency period. They were informed that the bespoke COVID 19 waste helpline will be discontinued from next week with the Bulky Waste Collection Service number remaining in place to assist the public.
 
Details of how all 11 Northern Ireland Council’s are in the process of being designated by the Department of Health to have an enforcement role in relation to the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) Regulations NI 2020 legislation was provided at the meeting. Members heard how in the coming weeks Council officers will have an enhanced enforcement role in relation to social distancing measures in businesses and premises during the emergency period. Responsibility will continue to lie with the PSNI in relation to premises that sell alcohol.
 
In terms of the NI Executive’s Recovery plans, members were informed that Council is continuing with its own recovery plan that will be dovetailed to coincide with Government guidance. They were informed that the majority of Council staff continue to work from home and COVID 19 Risk assessments and Safe Systems of Work plans are being prepared along with guiding principles that will be used by each section to facilitate the safe return to work of staff. Reassurance was given that this work is cross departmental with all aspects of operational recovery, including health and safety, property and premises management and personnel, being carried out.
 
Members heard how officers are reviewing arrangements for the reopening of play parks and taking into account the revised Government guidelines, it is envisaged this will form phase three of any planned recovery plan by Council and would include guidance from the ROSPA and a strict cleaning and hygiene protocol and additional signage. In the interim regular inspections and maintenance works at play areas is continuing.
 
In relation to playing pitches, members heard that officers are continuing to review the NI Executive’s stepped approach to recovery and that all Council grass pitches and MUGA’s remain closed and that the reopening of grass pitches to facilitate competitive fixtures only, are expected to form step four or five of the recovery process. In the interim Council continues to provide a bespoke programme of online physical programmes. Stage 2 or 3 of recovery could see the possible reopening of tennis courts, 3G and MUGA facilities for recognised sports clubs where the governing body has approved the resumption of training while the reopening of the running track at Templemore is anticipated to form part of phase 3 or 4 of recovery.
 
Members were also advised that as part of stage 2 recovery it is anticipated first team training for Derry City FC will be permitted, subject to governing body approval and risk assessments and any requests for training in advance of this would be subject to NI Executive advice and guidance. Members were also informed that the recommencement of trials at the Greyhound Track are anticipated to form part of stage 2 recovery and will also be subject to an operational plan and risk assessment, as well as approval by the Governing body.
 
Members were also provided with an update in relation to Council’s financial position and how NI Executive funding of £20.3m had been allocated this week to assist all Councils with financial losses and emergency expenditure, and an £3.8m secured to assist with additional waste management costs. 
 
Members heard how Council is working closely with Government and the other Councils to agree a mechanism of accessing its share of these funds. Members were reminded that despite this funding, the Council’s financial position remained critical and the risk of insolvency remains. They were reassured that Council will continue to lobby for continued financial support and for a guarantee from Government that rates paid to Council is based on the estimated figure agreed as part of the 2019/20 rate setting process.
 
Details of the new NI Micro-business Hardship Fund, that was announced earlier this week to help micro business and social enterprises was outlined to members along with details of the range of funding programmes that are available, were outlined. Members heard how Council’s business team are working proactively to assist local businesses to avail of this funding package.
 
Details of a Department for Infrastructure project announced last week to increase the space available for cyclists and pedestrians by extending pavements, pedestrianizing streets and introducing pop up cycle lanes was also outlined to members at the meeting. Members heard how Council is working with the officials from the Department to consider possible schemes going forward.
 
Members also received an update in relation to the planned AGM scheduled for 01 June.
 
Concluding the meeting, Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council Cllr Michaela Boyle extended her thanks to Council staff and officials for their continued public service and she also acknowledged the commitment and hard work of all elected members in providing support to their constituents during this difficult times.
 
She expressed concern at the increasing numbers of people, particularly young people, out and about and urged people not to be complacent and to continue to do what they can to stay at home to protect lives.