Belfast's traditional red brick Victorian terraces being flattened for bland housing with little merit, say experts
Belfast's traditional Victorian streetscape of rows of terraces has virtually vanished, replaced by a bland style of architecture that could be anywhere in the world, experts have claimed.
Built environment campaigners Forum For An Alternative Belfast (FAB) warned that not only is the city losing its distinctive red brick terraces, but they are being replaced by much lower quality housing.
This new housing is also far lower density, leading to the depopulation of the inner city, director Declan Hill warned.
He said a group of architecture students and professors from Berlin visited south Belfast last week and were horrified to see where terraces in the Village area have been demolished.
"A large area of what was previously streets of traditional terraced housing has been flattened, leaving a wasteland in the centre of our city," he said.
"They are being replaced with lower density housing which only has a maximum of 40% of the number of dwellings that were there before.
"It contributes to the depopulation of the city, the reduction of customers that would support corner shops.
"There are fewer children going to school so you have school closures; there are fewer people travelling in and out of the area so there is less need for a bus service. One thing adds to another and that is what has happened to our city over the years."
A couple of years ago, FAB published a 'missing city map' which showed where former neighbourhoods – such as Sailortown and Little Italy – had been obliterated. And they say the same thing is still going on now with the redevelopment of the Village.
"Belfast is a Victorian city with traditional terraced housing but unfortunately now we've lost most of it. The frightening thing is that they're now planning to do the same thing at the top of the Shankill and in the New Lodge."
A project by Hearth Housing at McMaster Street in east Belfast has shown how these terraces could have been refurbished to meet modern Building Regulation standards at a fraction of the cost per dwelling of the new houses in the Village, said Mr Hill.
And the Berlin professors who visited last week agree, saying the replacement houses are of a lesser architectural and urban design standard than those being torn down.
Professor Jan Kleihues said: "'We do not understand how a house type of outstanding urban design quality and is central to the tradition of Belfast is being demolished."
The Northern Ireland Housing Executive said the Village regeneration is intended to replace unfit housing for modern homes and plans are developed closely with the local community.
Only 40% of the housing was demolished, while the rest is being retained with a view to improvement and a number of vacant properties in the Area of Townscape Character are being restored.
"Fold Housing Association has also provided the new terraced social housing in the Village area and members of the local community were involved in the design of the new homes. The new homes were also designed to reflect the original terraced streetscape in line with the community's wishes," the Housing Executive said.
It's easy to be nostalgic, but residents want 21st century homes
By Paula Bradshaw
The houses that are being built in the Village are the vision that the community has put forward.
It would be wrong to say the community spirit has gone through redevelopment, or that the new housing is characterless. It would be easy to be nostalgic about the type of houses that have been demolished.
The reality, however, was that the Village area was depopulating with families moving out to the suburbs for larger homes.
People wanted three bedrooms, they wanted somewhere to park their cars, and they wanted a front and back garden.
The demolished houses were built at the turn of the last century when Belfast was different.
Society and lifestyles have changed, and so the replacement houses are more reflective of what people want from their home in the 21st century.
For the last 10 years a Housing Focus Committee is responsible for driving the housing agenda in the Village area.
Fourteen volunteer residents have been part of this body.
In addition, the wider community has had many opportunities, through consultation and public meetings, to feed in their thoughts on what type of houses they wanted to see going back.
From the start, the community has been very insistent that they wanted to keep the traditional Belfast linear streetscape.
Residents were not trying to throw out everything good about our built heritage. They wanted new houses that would work well with what was there.