AFTER weeks of tough new rules designed to halt the spread of COVID-19, Antrim and Newtownabbey Council has started cautiously easing restrictions.
In many ways the lockdown has been draconian, but by any standard it has been effective at slowing the march of the virus.
Grim early predictions of deaths running into the tens of thousands, mercifully, have not materialised. Not yet at any rate.
Locals have, by and large, respected the restrictions with an impressive stoicism. Mayor John Smyth has congratulated them all for their ‘patience’.
But as the weeks turned into months, resolve was undoubtedly starting to fray - particularly when many rules were lifted in England.
Elected reps met last week and together agreed to restore a number of services.
And many families who have decided to use lockdown to complete DIY projects - and others angered by a sudden spike in fly-tipping - will be relieved to learn that the council is finally re-opening their five Household Recycling Centres.
A number of restrictions have been in place at the sites, following the first tentative re-opening in early May.
However since Wednesday residents are now able to access the sites with vans and trailers, and from yesterday (Monday) small electrical items and electronic equipment were also be accepted.
Other restrictions still remain in place including a limitation on the streams of waste that can be accepted across all sites, and an appointment system stays for Crumlin and O’Neill Road Recycling Centres to manage the impact of traffic.
The Council is continuing to work with external contractors to restore the removal and processing of materials from the sites so that the list of accepted materials can be expanded.
“I am pleased that we are able to lift a number of these restrictions within our Recycling Centres and want to assure residents we are working hard to restore other services,” said the Mayor.
“I thank the public for their patience and co-operation during these unprecedented times and ask that they to continue to adhere to the limitations on materials that can be accepted and also the social distancing guidelines when on site.”
Members also agreed that the requests received from Trinity Reformed Presbyterian Church and Abbots Cross Congregational Church to hold open-air church services should be accommodated, and also asked officers to bring forward proposals for a broader policy on the use of Council car parks for open-air events - possibly even drive in cinemas.
The Council has also decided to restore a number of leisure services in the wake of the Northern Ireland Executive lifting some of the restrictions around COVID-19.
The Council took decisions on a number of areas including golf courses, parks and open spaces, tennis courts and angling facilities.
Allen Park, and Ballyearl golf courses reopened on Thursday - one week after Massereene Golf Club.
The buildings at the council-run facilities remain closed, however.
Details on how to book tee-times and use of driving ranges can be found on the council website.
Tennis will re-open at Mossley Park, Lilian Bland Park, Sixmile Park and Wallace Park, whist those who prefer a more sedate pace can now cast their angling rods at Mossley Mill.
Other private clubs, of course, are also available.
The Mayor said that while they were small steps, they are in the right direction.
“It is encouraging to be in a position to restore these service,” he said.
“Leisure and recreation is hugely important for people’s mental health and we know that those who enjoy golf, tennis, angling and indeed our wonderful green spaces will very much welcome the opening up of these facilities.
“Your cooperation has been very much appreciated and vital in keeping everyone safe and protecting our communities and the NHS.”