Outcry over the proposed demolition of Ballykinler Army base in Co Down
The Ministry of Defence has been urged to think again about demolishing 200 homes inside the Ballykinler Army base in Co Down.
One Sinn Fein MLA said the entire Army site should be transferred to the Executive - as others have been in the past.
South Down MLA Chris Hazzard said: "My party wants to see the entire site, including the sections which continue to be used by the British Army and the police as a firing range, vacated by the British military."
"The site should then be transferred to the Executive so that it can be used for the benefit of the entire community."
SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie said that the properties could be used to provide affordable housing in the area. The former Social Development Minister who was responsible for housing in the Assembly, said: "There are over 21,000 people in urgent housing stress in Northern Ireland and such housing provision would be ideal."
She suggested the site could also be used to develop a community hub on the former Kindle primary school site at the gates of the camp, not far from Newcastle.
Asking for an urgent meeting with Armed Forces Minister Mike Penning, the South Down MP said: "I am deeply angry that the MoD would even consider demolition of such quality housing when this housing could be put on the open market or when the facility exists for these houses to be made available for social housing.
"There are also many people in the local Ballykinler and Lecale area who are desperate for an opportunity to get on to the first rung of the housing ladder."
Local people are also up in arms over the plan which they argue would lead to a waste of taxpayers' money.
And they also claim the homes were refurbished less than 10 years ago.
Resident David McMullan said: "They should be sold on the open market as happened elsewhere in Northern Ireland.
"A lot of the houses are in very good condition. The officers' houses are quite big and have good-sized gardens.
"It would be a terrible waste of taxpayers' money if they were tossed."
The MoD has already sold off housing on other sites including Mahon Road in Portadown, Pond Park in Lisburn and Ballykelly in Co Londonderry, where 317 houses were put on the market six years ago.
Before they went on sale, many people - some of them first-time buyers - queued for up to a week.
Describing the 199 Ballykinler homes, the MoD website said: "Ballykinler offers modern housing (2007) with en-suite bathrooms and attached garages. Three and four bedroom houses are available."
An MoD spokesman said: "With the reduction in military footprint we are not using the barracks as a base and Defence Infrastructure Organisation will be looking at a range of options.
"Demolition has not actually started and remains one of a number of options being examined."
Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie said the demolition "makes little sense unless it's part of overall sale of the estate".
TUV councillor Henry Reilly, who was stationed in the base as a soldier in the Royal Irish Regiment, warned that the ongoing use of the nearby training complex and firing range could make a house sale problematic.
But Ms Ritchie said: "Arguments about interference from the nearby training range are largely spurious when Army families lived at this location for years, and housing has also existed in Ballykinler village just beside the camp without incident."