Feathers have been ruffled in advance of next week’s scheduled unveiling of a £22,000 statue of a bronze goose at Cromac Street.
The Markets’ Development Association has hit out at the Department of Social Development (DSD), accusing it of choosing to splash out on art over a project which would positively improve the lives of dozens of residents in the area.
The criticism comes after the association received the body blow of learning that an environmental improvement scheme for the area, which it has been championing for the past four years, will not be funded for the fifth year running.
The environmental project would have a positive lasting impact on the homes and lives of dozens of residents, argued the association’s community development officer, Gerard Davison.
The disappointed community worker said the latest letter from the Housing Executive, citing financial reasons for the environmental scheme being shelved until 2010, feels like the death knell for the project.
“The DSD has got its priorities all wrong,” said Mr Davison. “We have serious social need in this area and this environmental improvement scheme was the fourth phase of a redevelopment project for the area, but there is money for a little girl with a duck.”
The community worker said the association was supportive of art projects which celebrated the area’s history, like the soon to be revealed ‘Alec the Goose (and friend)’ sculpture, which is based on a popular goose who waddled around the south Belfast area in 1929.
“We have been very supportive of this project and support things like this which are historical, but not at the expense of real social need, especially in this economic climate,” he said.
The environmental project would have radically overhauled McCauley Street, Stewart Street and Eliza Close by extending gardens, putting in paving, railings and making more precious green space available.
A DSD spokesman said: “These are two completely separate issues. The Cromac Street scheme is all about improving the streetscape on the edge of the city centre at a location much used by local people and visitors, by upgrading footpaths and planting trees. The statue will link the scheme to the local community and its history and local people wanted it to go up. Plans for phase four are well developed and once the resources are identified to deliver them, work will begin.”
The spokesman said the credit crunch has meant a shortfall in the housing budget, meaning reprioritising schemes such as the Markets programme.