People power has won the day after a housing association withdrew plans to buy up property across the Ards in the face of sustained opposition from locals.
Clanmil Housing Association had been in negotiations to buy up properties at Marks Mews in Newtownards and at Ringbuoy Cove and Castle Meadows in Cloughey. Residents who had bought properties in private developments were concerned at the neighbouring houses being turned over for social housing tenants.
Strangford MLA Kieran McCarthy and Councillor Linda Cleland said: “It is imperative that consultation is taken with local residents, if and when they are trying to integrate Public Authority housing within private developments, and in this instance we applaud Clanmil for their co-operation with local residents and listening to their concerns.
“Councillor Cleland met with the concerned residents, and meetings were arranged and held both at the Alliance Constituency office and the Cloughey Bowling Pavilion with representatives of Clanmil, residents and other interested parties. Residents made their case to Clanmil officials and by saying no to these particular houses Clanmil have accepted the residents’ concerns,” he said.
The Alliance representative said that most people were in favour of shared housing but argued that “it should be encouraged prior to building commencing in every new development so that everyone has a choice and will be treated equally”.
Alderman McCarthy said, to date, private exclusive developments have been built and owners accept the many rules and regulations such as cost, leasing, environment etc., and these should be respected.
“Settled home owners can become anxious when Associations buy up remaining houses that are hard to sell due to the current economic slump, but when you believe you have bought into an exclusive private development and paid to do so, it would be hard to accept Public Authority housing.”
Alderman McCarthy pointed out that there are plenty of brown field sites in almost every town, village or hamlet where Housing Associations could build and he would encourage Associations to look to these sites.
DUP MLA Michelle McIlveen also welcomed the news. “The proposals had met with considerable opposition from local residents. Much of the criticism centred around Clanmil’s lack of consultation with local residents and the presentation of the purchases as a fait accompli.
“I met with many of those potentially affected by the proposals over the last few months and among them they had a variety of very real and valid objections but there was also a concern that the housing association was not taking these on board.”
She said she had liaised with Clanmil and both the current Social Development Minister and his predecessor in seeking a solution. “I am pleased that Clanmil has now had a change of heart.
“While I recognise the need for social housing in the area, when such powers are being used there is a real need for housing associations to take cognisance of the views being expressed by the community and in order to do this full and proper consultation must take place,” she added.
No-one from Clanmil Housing Association was available for comment at the time of going to press.