Village area residents angry over 'wasteland' left by south Belfast regeneration bid
It was once a thriving community, dotted with corner shops and small but beautifully kept front gardens.
Now rows of bustling terraces in the Village area of south Belfast have been demolished, leaving nothing but a wasteland where people gather to light bonfires.
And the worst blow of all is that while more 500 houses were demolished, only 114 new homes will replace them – and the gaping wasteland that remains is to be grassed over.
Almost all of Louisa Blackburn's neighbours have now moved out of Soudan Street, leaving her alone in a row of boarded up houses.
"The land has been cleared in front of me and behind me and the streets are going to be grassed over," she says.
"When I bought this house six years ago it was a thriving community. It was a lovely street. Now it will just be wasteland.
"There are all these vandals out there making bonfires every day. It's very intimidating and stressful."
Ernest Welch, who lived in Broadway Avenue since he was married in 1954 but has now moved to a flat on the Lisburn Road, believes this is one of the reasons why people who moved out of their homes for the regeneration are no longer considering returning, deterred by the anti-social behaviour.
"It was terrible when the houses started to be demolished – it was like Beirut," he said.
"Kids running around wrecking everything, stealing everything. They destroyed the area."
Billy Dickson, chairman of Blackstaff Community Association, said: "They came up with this idea of dividing the area in two and everything to the right would be demolished and everything to the left would be kept, no matter if they were good houses or not."
He said some local people moved back when the first and second phases were built and a third phase of 27 houses will get under way next year.
But he has been told that there isn't enough demand on the housing list to justify building further houses.
"I believe the Minister (Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland) is very sympathetic and would be keen to see houses built, but it's really the housing list that puts it off," he said.
"It could be anything between five and 10 years before we see any more houses built," he added.
A Housing Executive spokesman said:
"An Economic Appraisal concerning the regeneration of the Village area was approved by the Board of the Housing Executive and Department for Social Development/Department of Finance and Personnel in 2008. This recommended the demolition of 539 unfit dwellings and the construction of 273 new dwellings on a mixed tenure basis.
"The Housing Executive carried out detailed consultation with the community and their representatives about the proposals and at that time residents who were being displaced through redevelopment were given a commitment that they would be rehoused back in the area if they wished – that commitment has been and will continue to be honoured.
"To date two phases of new build, comprising 87 new social dwellings are complete or nearing completion by Fold Housing Association. Planning approval has also been submitted for a third phase of 27 social dwellings, which is expected to start in early 2014. This third phase will meet future social housing need in the area. Any additional social housing provision would require a review of the Economic Appraisal as this would deviate significantly from the original approval.
"In line with the original proposals, it is the Housing Executive’s intention to develop the remaining land for affordable private sector housing and we will commence this process in consultation with the local community once planning approval has been granted for the third phase of new social homes. As an interim measure the site is being grassed."