Belfast Telegraph

Residents fight plans to turn luxury tower blocks on their doorsteps into social housing

By Helen Carson

An emergency meeting has been held between politicians and the Housing Executive over proposals to sell off two apartment blocks in a private luxury development for social housing.

Residents in the development are objecting to the plans, fearing their homes, many bought at the height of the boom and already in negative equity, could lose more value.

The Redwoods development in Dunmurry on the outskirts of south Belfast is a mix of townhouses and three apartment blocks built by McAleer & Rushe at the height of the property boom.

The high-spec homes were described by the estate agents as “a stunning example of 21st century design”, “cutting edge” and “effortlessly cool”.

While one block, Luna House, is currently occupied by private residents who bought when the scheme first went up for sale, the other two blocks, Sempar House and Monarch House, have been lying empty.

Residents recently received a letter from Clanmil Housing Association outlining the plan for social housing. They have been opposing it ever since.

A spokeswoman for the housing association said it has agreed a price for the two blocks with McAleer & Rushe, but would not reveal how much was paid for the apartments.

On Monday, DUP politicians Jeffrey Donaldson and Jonathan Craig held a meeting with the Housing Executive in a bid to calm tensions and argue on behalf of the residents.

Mr Craig, Lagan Valley MLA, said they asked the Housing Executive to ensure the blocks are not used for social housing and to extend the consultation period, which had originally been the end of this month.

Redwoods resident Ian Scott (32), a salesman for a building materials company, claimed the residents are 100% opposed to the move.

Mr Scott said: “We fear this is a fait accompli.”

He said: “I paid £100,000 two years ago for my one-bedroom apartment, but other residents paid £300,000 for a house. It was my first home and I saved hard to get my apartment here as it was a private development.

“I had been renting and moved back with my parents while I was saving for my own home.

“I chose Redwoods because it was a private development. At no stage were we told the two blocks would be sold off for social homes.

“We have had such short notice and we fear the deal will be done by the end of the month — the end of the financial year.”

The proposal from Clanmil said one block may be exclusively for over-55s while the other would provide homes for families from the housing list.

But Mr Scott says this is not good enough. There is no guarantee who will be housed here if the deal goes ahead,” he said.

“I bought here because I wanted to live in a mixed community in terms of religion.

“The people here are fantastic and my home is lovely. There was never any suggestion that I was buying into a scheme part of which would become social housing.”

Mr Scott acknowledged that, while many of the home-owners are in negative equity, they fear a move to a mixed tenure development will further devalue their homes.

“The empty houses will be sold off for a very small sum, probably less than half of what many existing residents paid,” he added.

Mr Scott said as well as inadequate notice, some residents were not informed about the proposal.

“Not all 300 residents received letters,” he said

The spokeswoman for Clanmil said staff from the housing association delivered letters and knocked on doors as well as setting up an information point at Redwoods to talk to residents.

“Our first priority is to make homes available to people and that’s what we’re here for,” she said.

Story so far

A row has broken out over the sale of a luxury development built at the height of the boom for social housing. A spokesman for developer McAleer & Rushe said: “McAleer & Rushe can confirm negotiations are progressing with Clanmil Housing Association to acquire Sempar House and Monarch House at our Redwoods development in Dunmurry. “Clanmil Housing Association is a long-established provider of affordable rented homes and supported housing, with an enviable track record of managing the integration of mixed tenures and creating and supporting sustainable communities.”

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