The Social Development Minister has been accused of “going it alone” over her plans to build 200 social houses on the site of the former Girdwood army barracks.
Minister Margaret Ritchie at the Assembly last week announced she has instructed the Housing Executive to appoint a housing association to begin working on the development of 200 social houses on the site.
North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds has accused Ms Ritchie of attempting to ignore the clearly expressed wishes of local communities regarding the future of the highly sensitive site.
Mr Dodds said: “The Minister knows well that decisions regarding the future of the Girdwood site lie with the Assembly Executive, not with DSD (Department for Social Development) alone.
“She may imagine that she can ignore all the cross-community consultation and dialogue which has taken place during the masterplanning exercise for this site but she has no such authority.
“The clear message from residents in the Lower Oldpark community is that social housing on this site would be highly detrimental to community relations at this extremely sensitive interface.
“She stated in the Assembly that she recognises that housing would be ‘extremely contentious’ on this site and would impact on community relations between the Lower Oldpark and Cliftonville communities, yet went on to say that her first priority is to provide housing to release housing stress in north Belfast.
“Even if ‘shared housing’ is not possible she would still insist that building must proceed.
“Her first priority should be to see that the site is developed in a manner that will be acceptable and non-threatening for all neighbouring communities.
“I can assure local communities that I will ensure that their wishes are listened to and are taken fully on board before any legitimate decisions are made.”
However Ms Ritchie’s move was welcomed by north Belfast councillor Patrick Convery. He said: “I have long championed the development of social housing on this site as one of the ways to alleviate the need for social housing in north Belfast. With so many people in north Belfast on the housing list and in housing stress it is vital that this work begins as soon as possible.
“The Girdwood site has the potential to transform housing, leisure and community relations in north Belfast. The Minister has shown her commitment to the people of north Belfast and this announcement is the first step in the process of transforming this area.”
A DSD spokeswoman said: “Minister Ritchie has instructed the Housing Executive to appoint a housing association to bring forward proposals for 200 houses on the Girdwood site.”