Belfast Telegraph

Village design will feature local input

By Pauline Reynolds

Design options for the regeneration of the Village area of south Belfast will go ahead with “maximum involvement” from the community, the Social Development Minister has assured.

Margaret Ritchie was responding to written questions tabled in the Assembly on Monday by local MLA Anna Lo.

She had asked the minister to confirm the strength of community involvement in the £100 million regeneration process.

“As the emphasis now moves towards consideration of the design option for new housing, the emphasis will remain on ensuring maximum involvement of the community and their representatives,” Ms Ritchie responded.

“The Housing Executive has already commenced the process of setting up a design team which will include community representation.

“The Housing Executive’s district manager has already arranged meetings with both the Greater Village Regeneration Trust (GVRT) and the Blackstaff Homeowners’ Association (BHA) to consult them on the composition of the design team.

“It is not intended to place any residential restrictions on who the community chooses to represent them.

“But steps will be taken to ensure that all shades of opinion have the opportunity to be represented on the design team.”

The GVRT and BHA each expect to have five representatives on board.

GVRT director Paula Bradshaw said her organisation welcomed Ms Ritchie's assurances.

“We have been adamant from the start that the whole regeneration process will be community led,” she said.

“And we certainly welcome all public announcements which reassure that this remains the case.

“Our representatives will feed in ideas and aspirations for the remodelling of the Village, not just for housing but for such aspects as green spaces and other community amenities and facilities.”

Billy Dickson, chair of BHA,also welcomed Ms Ritchie’s response.

“We are pleased with the minister’s acknowledgement that it is for the community to choose who represents them on the design team,” he said.

However, he reiterated his call for a ministerial face-to-face meeting.

“We have made repeated requests over the years to meet the minister and she has never held a full meeting with us,” said Mr Dickson.

“We also have a number of clarifications to seek from her, but due to the fact she hasn’t talked with us, we have instead had to resort to posing critical questions through MLAs at the Assembly.”

Ms Lo also asked Ms Ritchie to confirm that the Housing Executive was not committed to courtyard layouts for new build projects in the Village.

And the MLA further sought assurances that the historic street pattern in the area would be retained.

Ms Ritchie responded by saying the HE had not decided on any particular layouts.

“The objective is to achieve the most suitable design and housing mix, working in partnership with all interested parties — all options can be considered,” she replied.

Ms Lo further asked when a transcript of the recent public inquiry into the vesting of homes in the Village would be released.

The MLA claimed the Department for Social Development had made a commitment to do so.

However Ms Ritchie responded by saying her Department “gave no commitment” to release the transcript.

The minister stated that the independent inspector who chaired the proceedings invited interested parties to seek the transcript from the Department at the end of the inquiry, if they so wished.

Ms Ritchie said he had “no authority to approve the release of the document which is exempt from disclosure under section 32(2) (b) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000”.

The regeneration plan involves both rebuilding and refurbishment.

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