Michael Kenwood (Local Democracy Reporter)
Controversial decision on raising Belfast Zoo prices pushed until after council elections
Proposals to hike the charges at Belfast Zoo are being held up by councillors at City Hall until after the council elections in May.
The plan for price hikes at one of the city’s leading attractions has been bounced from committee to full council and back again as elected representatives from Belfast City Council voice concerns about leisure costs rising during a cost of living crisis.
Last month councillors “noted” an update on mooted price increases at the City Growth and Regeneration Committee, as presented by the council Director of Economic Development. This was in “restricted items,” which means away from the public and press, in a private section of the committee meeting.
However, when the proposal reached the full council meeting at the start of April, People Before Profit Councillor Fiona Ferguson voiced opposition to the price rises, and successfully proposed it being sent back to committee this week for reconsideration. And despite the matter being discussed behind locked doors again at the City Growth and Regeneration Committee this week, a representative from the council stated:
“No decision was made and a further report will be brought back to a future committee meeting.”
The council has not released to the public the nature of the proposed price hikes, and the next meeting of the relevant committee will not be until June, after the council elections.
Currently zoo charges, without donation and online, are free for children up to four years old and carers, £6.50 for four to 16 year olds, over 60s and students, £13 for adults aged 17 and over, and £36.50 for a family day ticket (maximum two adults and three children).
At the gate the charges are higher, again free for children up to four years old, but increased to £7 for four to 16 year olds, over 60s and students, £14 for adults aged 17 and over, and £39.50 for a family day ticket. There are also membership concession rates and concessions for larger groups.
At the April meeting of the full council, Councillor Ferguson said:
"We are concerned about any price hike for services during a cost of living crisis when people are about to hit with an eight percent hike in the rates.
“Everyone here now is at the doors at the moment – what we are hearing consistently is that rates are going up but people feel the services they are getting are being reduced. They are still angry about the bin mess-up in December, and there are other issues they are dealing with such as price hikes at leisure centres, it goes on and on. They are deeply frustrated.
“For that reason, I don’t think it is acceptable to give approval for more prices to go up in this city, and I think it would be a deeply unpopular move for this council to make. It is for families in this city, who can’t travel much because they can’t afford to, as well as tourists – and I think that we forget that.
“It is a resource on the doorstep of many people in this city, and as the weather gets warmer, we know that parents will rely on being able to afford to take their children there for an evening out. I am afraid we will price families out of that.”