Build at speed... repent at leisure
If you thought that the prevarication over development of the former Maze Prison site was a potent symbol of dysfunctional government, then the case of the former Girdwood Barracks in north Belfast will only underline that belief. In an area where there is a compelling case for large-scale social housing provision, the powers that be have decided the best way forward is to build a leisure centre. It is a decision which is divorced from reality.
Belfast City Council may have been awarded almost £10m from the European Union to build the centre along with some educational and business facilities, but where is the huge public demand for such a centre?
As ratepayers know only too well to their cost, building leisure centres is much cheaper than picking up the yearly tab for running them and some have been closed down in recent years for that very reason.
The development plan for Girdwood envisages 60 housing units being built there – part of the 671 proposed for north Belfast as a whole. Even if all of them are built it will not come near meeting the housing need.
The Housing Executive waiting list has more than 1,500 people in the area in real housing stress and as many again requiring a property.
But the provision of social housing in the north of the city has been fraught in recent times.
Nationalist and unionist politicians have been at loggerheads over which constituency requires new homes most and whether provision should be on an equal basis to created shared spaces.
While building up the infrastructure of the area is to be commended – as with the educational and business facilities at Girdwood – the priority should be ensuring that people in the area are adequately housed. One wonders if the EU asked the right questions before deciding to fund the new leisure facilities. Certainly the City Council should have been aware of the priorities. Giving people space to play is no compensation for denying them a roof over their heads.