Bulldozers move in as £100m regeneration scheme gets under way in Belfast
Residents in one of Belfast's most socially deprived neighbourhoods have welcomed the regeneration of the area as "long overdue".
Forty houses in the predominantly loyalist Village area in the south of the city were demolished yesterday in the first phase of a £100m scheme to redevelop the two-up, two-down former industrial mill houses.
Bulldozers moved in to tear down a row of vacant terraced properties on Lower Rockview Street close to the Donegall Road at about 1pm.
"It's important for a community to have houses that are fit for the 21st century," said Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland.
"At the end of this process we will have houses right across this area that are fit for modern society. There are 1,268 homes in the area - 538 will be demolished and they will be replaced by 273 new houses, and in addition 730 of the homes will be refurbished and brought up to standard. That's a major investment estimated to be around £100m. It's good that the work is getting started."
The 40 houses knocked down yesterday will be replaced by 36 family homes later this year.
Former DSD minister Margaret Ritchie first mooted plans to revive the Village in 2007.
Since then the department has spent around £17m vesting properties and relocating residents.
"If we want to regenerate an area we need to bring back families," Mr McCausland added.
"And that means you have to have a larger house, and if you have larger houses you can't have the same number as before. So, there will be a smaller number going back but still a large sustainable community. In the end there will be over 1,000 homes."
Over the years Village residents, some of whom had outside toilets until recently, have staged protests calling for improvements to their living conditions.
Long-standing Villager Alan Francey (55) was among the crowd who turned out to see the demolition take place.
"It's about 30 years too late," he told the Belfast Telegraph. "Some of the older folk would be opposed to the redevelopment to a certain extent, but as long as they hand out the houses to the right people then it will be great."
Housing Executive chairman Brian Rowntree said the proposals "not only address poor housing conditions" but "will provide a balanced approach to the improvement of existing housing".
Grandmother-of-five Peggy Creighton, who has lived at Moltke Street for the past 61 years, said: "I have a guarantee letter so I'll be getting one of the new houses and will be able to move back into the area. It's a long time overdue.
"I am looking forward to getting a new house, but at the same time it is sad to see the house that you have built up over the years being knocked down."
Former DSD Minister Margaret Ritchie vowed to tackle social housing problems in the Village in 2007. The area was declared an Urban Renewal Area (URA) in May 2008, triggering £100m of investment. In total, 538 homes will be demolished to be replaced by 273 new houses. In addition, 730 houses will be refurbished.