Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

Foundations of social housing plan are shaky

There's nothing wrong with introducing social housing into private residential areas if it's managed properly and the location and properties are suitable for the tenants.

But the high rise Semper apartment block at Redwoods in Dunmurry is far from ideal for the older people about to be settled therein by Clanmil housing association.

Ten storeys high, Semper has one lift and no amenities on the doorstep. It stands beside a privately-owned block, and faces a settled community of house-owners who bought into a dream, invented by developers McAleer and Rushe, that is rapidly turning sour.

Clanmil has invaded leafy Redwoods despite the unanimous opposition of local elected representatives and residents, who have been given no assurances that general-needs housing will not be introduced in the future.

Why didn't these apartments go to first-time buyers at a knock-down price?

Where is Clanmil getting all these over-55s willing to leave houses to live in high-rise flats?

When my sister bought her house in Redwoods it was being heavily marketed for young professionals working in Belfast and Lisburn – Hampton Estates even offered buyers a free one-year train pass for the handy onsite Derriaghy station to promote the idea. They were told Redwoods was a great investment and ordinary people worked hard to get the money together to invest for their future.

Most are at pains to emphasise their opposition to Clanmil has nothing to do with class or looking down on anyone.

Redwoods is a mix of working class and middle class, as opposed to its upmarket perception.

My sister was lucky to have bought off-plans before the prices went up, but many of her neighbours are in negative equity and others are having trouble selling.

I've seen an email from a leading estate agent to a Redwoods house owner, informing him of a buyer's withdrawal on the sale of his home directly because of Clanmil's takeover of the Semper building.

It has also caused upheaval in rentals within the quiet development, with landlords facing the loss of tenants who have told them straight they don't want to rent beside social housing due to the potential for the anti-social behaviour that has scarred similar developments.

I've spoken to several of the Luna block apartment owners who fear they're going to struggle to pay for their mortgages.

They are stressed out and have had many sleepless nights. They feel helpless and distressed, and let down by the builders and Hampton Estates.

Last week I went for a snoop at an apartment for sale for £85,000 in the Luna building. Like the Semper and Monarch blocks beside it, it is 10 storeys, with balconies on each unit. The 46 apartments in each are modestly sized and a bit dark, with no external clothes-drying facilities.

They are set apart from the harmonious main development, which jars with the Government's ethos of mixing social housing proportionately within private developments, to aid the assimilation of social tenants within the existing community.

The estate agents said they don't know what category of tenants Clanmil is moving into the Semper. When I asked them and the Housing Executive and the DSD for an article earlier this year, none of them could confirm that apartments will be restricted to 'active elderly' or confirmed the age category.

Moreover, a NIHE scheme assessment report on Redwoods stipulates "the association (Clanmil) should be aware of issues including the open/communal style layout, no defensible boundaries, no external clothes-drying facilities and communal parking, in terms of anti-social behaviour and housing management issues".

When I asked Clanmil to comment on this and on the unsuitability of the high-rise blocks for over 55s, a spokesperson said it had indicated its intention to meet with residents to discuss implementation of its plans in due course.

But despite repeated and detailed requests by the Redwoods Residents' Association to Clanmil, no information or evidence has ever been provided to demonstrate that social housing will not have a negative effect on the settled and diverse community that has existed within Redwoods for nearly 10 years.

There is a need for social housing in the area but not for high-rise apartments such as these for over-55s. What are really needed are three-bed family properties.

Social housing should go where it's needed, but more importantly, where the community wants it.

There are other areas Clanmil could have gone to with no objection; instead it has insisted on going ahead where it is not wanted. Residents can only hope it manages the Semper building properly.

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