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£38m housing plan ‘a sham’, says Dodds

The announcement of a £38million investment in homes for north Belfast by the Social Development Minister has been blasted as a ‘sham’ by the local MP.

Last week Margaret Ritchie announced plans to invest the huge sum for brand new homes in the Upper Long Streets, Parkside and Queen Victoria Gardens areas. Much of the old and inadequate housing will be demolished to make way for new, modern family homes.

A total of 276 old terraced homes will be demolished, under full consultation with the local community.

However North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds has criticised the move, saying: “I would like to be able to welcome the announcement of £38m for redevelopment and new social housing in parts of north Belfast. However this announcement is totally overshadowed by a ham-fisted attempt by the Minister to include housing at the highly sensitive Girdwood site at Cliftonpark Avenue.

“Margaret Ritchie is once again attempting to ride roughshod over the wishes of local residents in the Protestant Lower Oldpark community and attempting to ignore all previous consultation exercises regarding future usage of the Girdwood site. This remains a highly sensitive interface with sectarian attacks and clashes between rival groups of youths on a weekly basis along Cliftonpark Avenue.

“The Minister knows that cross-party agreement at the Stormont Executive is required for the Girdwood site. She has no authority to make any decision unilaterally. Her announcement is a sham and counts for nothing. I hope the incoming Minister will show a greater degree of sensitivity and regard for due process.”

At the announcement Margaret Ritchie said: “I have visited each of these areas and seen at first hand the poor housing people were living in. I made a promise to the residents in each community I visited that they would not be forgotten, and I am pleased that in my last days as Minister, I can now make good that promise.”

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The Housing Executive will now begin consultation with each of the local communities to discuss and agree an implementation plan for each area. Whilst this work will be phased in over the coming years, Mrs Ritchie has provided the funding to start work on the new homes immediately.

Mrs Ritchie continued: “I have ring fenced the necessary funding to ensure that work in each area can start at once. There have been enough false dawns for these residents and I was determined that our approval for these proposals had to be backed up with the resources necessary to see them through.”

SDLP North Belfast MLA Alban Maginness has welcomed move. “For many years the residents of the Upper Long Streets have fought for the redevelopment of their area. The Minister has met with residents on a number of occasions and she has seen first-hand the condition of these houses. This investment will have a huge impact on the lives of many people in this area.”

A Department for Social Development spokesman said the Housing Executive had been instructed to appoint a Housing Association to bring forward proposals for 200 houses on the Girdwood site.

He added: “The first phase of this is planned to begin during 2011/12 with the second phase scheduled for the following year. This will of course be subject to the necessary approvals being in place.”

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