Public Housing the Priority on former Mackies site

Workers Party West Belfast representative, Conor Duffy has reacted angrily to the announcement that no public housing is to be built on the former Mackies site on the Springfield Road.

“Well over a year ago I warned that despite West Belfast having one of the highest public housing waiting lists in Northern Ireland, Belfast City Council was proposing to develop the 25-acre site as a park and green-way amenity area”, Conor said

Those fears were confirmed at a meeting of the Council earlier this week.

While I am symapthetic to the need for such ammenities, the priority remains that there is currently a need for more than 2,000 publicly owned, affordable homes in West Belfast.

The waiting list figures here are amongst the highest in Northern Ireland, yet the council has opted to use the land for what amounts to an environmentally friendly ‘peace wall’ rather than an integrated public housing development stretching between the Springfield and Ballygomartin areas.

“It is inconceivable that the former Mackies site, which is public land under the ownership of the Department for Communities, is not being earmarked for a major public housing project

Sinn Fein, in particular, owe this community a public explanation of their position, why they voted against a proposal for public housing and why their Minister in the Department of the Communities did not support a public housing development on the site” Conor concluded..

Housing Executive changes “long overdue”

There are currently around 40,000 people on public housing waiting lists in Northern Ireland : 25,00 of those are in ‘housing stress’.

Changes to the way in which the Northern Ireland Housing Executive is funded and the role it can play in the provision and development of public housing here,  has been welcomed by the Workers Party as ” long overdue”.

Party spokesperson Joanne Lowry said, “If we are to have an effective and dynamic strategy which addresses the chronic shortage of public housing, then the Northern Ireland Housing Executive must be at its centre and assume its rightful role as lead agency,”

“This announcement is a welcome start but much remains to be done, and significant funding needs to be secured to deliver high quality public housing across Northern Ireland”, she said.

However, the Party’s welcome comes with a warning. “We must of course wait to see the detail of these announcements”, Joanne said, ” and one of the aspects which we will be scrutinising will be the Housing Executive’s regional role. The establishment of the NIHE was one of the many gains of the civil rights movement in the early 1970s. It must remain as the lead housing agency in Northern Ireland and not be diluted into another housing association”.

The proposed changes include allowing the NI Housing Executive to build again, retain and maintain existing stock – a demand the Workers Party has been making for more than twenty years. There are also proposed changes to the private rented sector affording tenants more security of tenure and an undertaking to review to ‘right to buy’ policy introduced during the Thatcher era which severely depleted the available public housing stock.

Homes – not another ‘peace wall in disguise’

The priority must be integrated public housing

A call for the building of public housing on the former Mackies site on Belfast’s Springfield Road has been made amidst fears that the area could be used to develop ‘yet another peace wall in disguise’

The comments come from Workers Party representative Conor Duffy who says that “despite West Belfast having one of the highest public housing waiting lists in Northern Ireland, Belfast City Council is proposing to develop the 25 acre site as a park and green-way amenity area..

” There is currently a need for more than 2,000 publicly owned, affordable homes in West Belfast. The waiting list figures here are amongst the highest in Northern Ireland”, Conor said.

Sectarian balance

“It is unbelievable that Belfast City Council is turning its back on the opportunity to use 25 acres of publicly owned land to build desperately needed public housing, unless of course their concerns are not about providing homes, but are about maintaining a sectarian balance”, he said .

“We have seen this before in other parts of Belfast – the site of the old Girwood Barracks in North Belfast, for example. Instead of using that land to addresses the chronic shortage of public housing in that area it too was turned into a ‘shared community space’ – which in reality represents yet another dividing line in the community.

“That option means that new public housing isn’t built where and when it should be, so that the local electoral balance remains unchanged”, Conor pointed out

“There is a very real danger that that is what we are about to see happen at the former Mackies site”, Conor added

Integrated public housing

“Here we have perfect opportunity to build an integrated public housing development stretching between the Springfield and Ballygomartin areas in line with the Housing Executive’s ‘Building Good Relations Through Housing Strategy (2017).

 l have written to Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey and asked her to intervene directly before we have a bigger housing crisis and another yet another peace wall in disguise”, Conor concluded.