Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Student housing shake-up ‘could help ease trouble’

Planning regulations on student houses must be tightened to provide a long-term solution to anti-social behaviour in the Holy Land area of Belfast, a university chief has urged.

University of Ulster vice Chancellor Professor Richard Barnett commended the agencies who worked together on Wednesday to minimise disorder during the St Patrick's Day festivities.

But he stressed the response involving intensive patrolling by police, council and university officials and mobile CCTV cameras was only a “sticking plaster” on a long-standing problem that had yet to be tackled.

Eight people were arrested in the area, but disturbances did not reach the scale of last year's riots.

Around two thirds of the properties in the Holy Land are designated as houses of multiple occupancy (HMO), the majority of which are rented by students.

Mr Barnett said the planning rules on HMOs had to be reviewed if the Holy Land issue is to be resolved properly.

The vice Chancellor said wider issues including the drinking culture also had to be tackled by the government.

“While progress was made yesterday, we also have to acknowledge the situation in the Holy Land continues to cause considerable distress to local residents and we will continue to work with them to look at a long-term solution,” he said.

“Yesterday was only a sticking plaster and there will need to be a long-term solution.

“It will require local MLAs and the Northern Ireland Executive across a number of Government departments working with the stakeholders throughout the year to tackle in a concerted way the wider issues which undoubtedly have contributed to this situation.

“These include finding a viable long-term solution to the Holy Land, dealing with the binge drinking culture and confronting the issue of the planning regulations which have led to high concentrations of houses of multiple occupancy in the area.

“Along with other stakeholders, the university will continue to work throughout the year to ensure our students continue to act responsibility towards the communities in which they live and ensure they are aware of the consequences of anti-social behaviour.”

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