Page last updated at 08:37 GMT, Friday, 27 June 2008 09:37 UK

Lord mayor's driving dilemma

By Seamus Boyd
BBC News

Updating the BMW 7 to a 2008 variant could cost 61,000
Updating the BMW 7 to a 2008 variant could cost 61,000

It's the conundrum facing thousands of car owners - stick or split? Persevere with the old car and hope it lasts the course or empty your pockets and buy a new one.

That dilemma is also being faced by Belfast's Lord Mayor with some councillors suggesting the current model should be kept and others claiming it just doesn't make economic sense.

Now before you feel too sorry for the mayor, he's not exactly running about in an old banger at the moment.

It's an 05 BMW 7-Series that cost 54,000 - you know one of those where anything that's not leather or alloy is walnut.

There's just 25,000 miles on the clock and Councillor David Rodway recently told the News Letter that it's a tiger with plenty more in its tank.

"I would like to see the car being kept for at least five years. I know this might not sound modest to say but I know what I'm talking about when it comes to cars," the former mechanic said.

Tom Hartley
Tom Hartley, pictured at the launch of Bike2Work week, is a keen cyclist

"People are suffering severe financial hardship and to do this now would be sending out the wrong message.

"I believe we should be spending our ratepayers' money as carefully as we can rather than throwing it away on a whim."

If the council does opt for another 7-Series then it will find it has risen more than 7,000 in the past three years to 61,000.

So what do get for that sort of money?

Well, 0-60 in 6.9 seconds (though won't a Belfast Lord Mayor always be in a 30 zone?), a six-speed automatic, air suspension (useful if you've been sitting in a council meeting all day), rain sensors (to save the driver all that bother of turning on the wipers), about five miles to a litre of petrol and most importantly of all for the city's first citizen - an airbag system that promises advanced head protection.

However, one important option gives the chauffeur a critical advantage over the mayor - heated seats - these only apply to the front.

One way the council could cut the cost would be to sell the highly desirable registration number - 1 WZ. One industry expert estimated that even in these recession-hit times it's a plate worth quite a few dinners.

"A quick sale would raise bids around 20,000 but you could get offers closer to 35,000 if you were willing to wait,'' he said.

Of course, all this car talk means very little to the current Lord Mayor, Sinn Fein's Tom Hartley, who, despite being built more for comfort than speed, is passionate about cycling.

"The only option I want for the car is a bike rack," he said.

"I'm not a sprinter, more of a dawdler, and with up to 10 functions a day to attend, we do need the car. I could use the bike but going from the Ormeau to the Antrim Road would turn into a three-day event."

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