10 March 2006

Local housing strategy blasted by campaigners


Anger over yet another rise in waiting lists for nationalists

The chairman of St Patrick’s and St Joseph’s Housing Committee has blasted the latest Housing Executive report that shows that housing stress and homelessness continues to rise.
Liam Wiggins has also branded the outgoing North Belfast Housing Strategy “a complete failure” and demanded that any next strategy be split so it addresses both unionist and nationalist areas separately because of their differing needs.
“After three years of the North Belfast Housing Strategy we called for a review as regards unionist and nationalist areas because they had two different sets of needs, this did not happen. Now we are in the final year of the seven-year strategy and in the area we represent not one brick has been placed on top of another one in a new build development to increase the number of homes,” he said.
“I would ask the Housing Executive if management consider this strategy a success?
Liam Wiggins was responding to a report released recently entitled: Northern Ireland Housing Market – Review and Perspectives.
It showed housing stress figures for North Belfast (those over 30 points in the controversial points system) had again increased by 14 per cent since its last report. Of the entire housing need under and over 30 points, the figure had risen by 16 per cent.
Liam Wiggins said based on these percentages, he estimated that nationalists were now over 90 per cent of the waiting list.
“This so-called strategy has delivered nothing but more housing crisis, now up to 90 per cent from March 2000 at the start of the strategy when it was 73 per cent. We ask: Is this a success?”
The housing campaigner also said that that the Girdwood barracks development plans raised more questions than answers following claims by the SDLP’s Alban Maginness that it would go some way to easing the problem of housing in nationalist areas.
“We need to know what the plans for Girdwood are. Is it going to be a split site, and if so then what percentage of the land will be earmarked for housing? How many units will be built? Whilst we welcome any housing and potential leisure facility being built on the site the facts are that there will be no work started for at least two years which means the waiting list will continue to rise.”
Solving the long-term housing problem for nationalists demands more commitment from government, said Liam Wiggins.
“Realistically what nationalist North Belfast needs is a separate housing strategy similar to the Shankill. This has to be a strategy based on need and the genuine acquisition of land in sufficient amounts to meet that need.”
Liam Wiggins said the answer was an urban village for Sailortown.
“The swathes of land that are lying behind the dock gates under the control of a quango – the Harbour Commission – are the answer to this spiralling problem.”
A Housing Executive spokeswoman admitted that the housing stress list continued to rise, but claimed the situation would be much worse without the strategy.
But again she rejected accusations that the North Belfast Housing Strategy had failed, insisting the investment “cannot in any terms be classed as a failure”.
“By the end of March 2006, the Housing Strategy will have invested £166 million in North Belfast. Up to 2005, the Strategy had brought 822 new homes to North Belfast and by the end of March this year that total was expected to exceed 1,100.”

Journalist:: Evan Short

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