Belfast Telegraph

Holy Land residents ask parents for their support

A community group is appealing to parents of university students to support efforts to reduce violence in their area.

The Holy Land Regeneration Association has recently been calling for purpose built, student housing, after new figures show anti-social behaviour is continuing.

And they are asking parents to back their appeal by writing letters of support to their MLAs.

Fierce street rioting on St Patrick’s Day last year resulted in 15 arrests and the Association said footage shown across the world “caused embarrassment and shame”.

Ray Farley, chairman of the group, said residents in the area, were not looking forward to this year’s event and he made a direct appeal to parents.

“We know that the universities, student unions, police and other agencies are all working hard to prevent a recurrence,” he added.

“But reinforcing disciplinary procedures can only be a short-term measure and, in some cases, may only add to the adrenaline rush experienced by offenders.

“You can help by asking your son or daughter not to invite friends to the Holy Land during this period.

“The extra people in the area only make the situation harder to manage.”

However, Mr Farley said a permanent solution must be found.

“It is a matter of record that student ‘halls’ were substantially over-subscribed last year,” he said.

“The hundreds of students, turned down for halls at the last minute were left with little option but to rent in the Holy Land and in other parts of south Belfast.

“The fact is that the area is hugely over-populated, with thousands of young people crammed into houses which were originally designed to cater for less than half the number of occupants there are now.

“They come straight out of school into a claustrophobic and unsupervised environment, where alcohol and drugs are readily available and there is a culture of ‘anything goes’.

“A major reason for this predicament is that the universities do not provide sufficient, purpose built, managed, student accommodation.”

Mr Farley pointed out that universities in the rest of the UK relied on approved private sector providers to build and manage student accommodation.

“We have appealed to the universities — with little success — to support this type of development,” he said.

“Apart from the obvious benefits to the community, universities and students, the housing market, construction industry and the wider economy will all benefit.

“We are now asking parents and their MLAs to take a lead in this matter and write directly to the universities, seeking their cooperation in underwriting investment in large scale, purpose built, student accommodation.

“There are many derelict sites and car-parks available in good proximity to the city centre and the universities.”

An action plan has been drawn up to try and ensure calm on this year’s St Patrick’s Day.

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