Belfast Telegraph

Row erupts over Girdwood housing

by Bob Malcolm

The Social Development Minister, DUP member Nelson McCausland has been criticised by the SDLP over his department’s decision not to proceed with building 200 houses on the site of the Girdwood barracks in north Belfast.

But the DUP responded by accusing the SDLP of “sectarian gamesmanship”.

North Belfast MLA Alban Maginness has described the news that Mr McCausland will not proceed with a proposal to use the site for social housing as “disturbing”.

Mr Maginness said the site gave the best opportunity for value for money in the north of the city, adding: “It is very disappointing, but not entirely surprising. The DUP has in the past been fiercely opposed to any housing development on the Girdwood site.

“The SDLP believes Girdwood presents the only opportunity — the only serious and substantial space in north Belfast — for housing development and there is no reason why the first phase of the development at Girdwood should not be housing as there is a proven objective need.

“As the Department for Social Development owns this 20 acre site it offers value for money during a harsh economic property climate where the Housing Executive will not have to buy the land,” he said.

“It’s worth asking the Housing Executive to clarify its position on this proposed development and its inclusion on the social housing plan.”

Manus Maguire, from the Cliftonville Community Forum said he saw the decision as putting the project “on the back foot”.

He said: “When Margaret Ritchie was the minister and this plan was put forward a lot of DUP leaflets went through doors on the Shankill and in Old Park saying the DUP would block the move.

“There is an issue of housing demand and whether they will go toGirdwood or somewhere else is the question.

“Housing is an emotive issue but it shouldn’t be avoided, and it shouldn’t be left to politicians to deal with it either.”

Mr Maguire said none of the DSD Ministers – whether SDLP or DUP — had held consultations with local people regarding the building of the new homes.

He said it was a big issue in north Belfast, as was the whole master plan, as housing developments could allow more interface areas to arise.

He added that the front of the Cliftonpark Avenue could be used for offices, services while Belfast City Council also had plans for building a sports centre there.

North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds said: “The DUP wishes to see the development of the Girdwood site for the benefit of all in North Belfast.

“The DUP has made it consistently clear that development at Girdwood requires inter-community agreement and Executive approval; these housing proposals had neither. They were never going anywhere.

“This was a false promise made by SDLP ministers in the run-up to elections. This is the rectification of the SDLP’s political and sectarian gamesmanship on housing.”

A DSD spokesperson said: “The Minister has always recognised the value and importance of this site in the wider context and is supportive of any approach to develop Girdwood in a manner that will bring benefit to and have the support of the whole community.”

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