Belfast Telegraph

Figures stand in contrast to 'no demand' for social housing in east Belfast claim

By Andrew Madden, local democracy reporter

Newly released figures have revealed a high demand for social housing in an area of east Belfast - where property developers have claimed there is none.

Two weeks ago, an audio recording emerged of a Belfast City Council meeting in which property developers and councillors dismissed concerns over a lack of social housing in east Belfast.

It has now emerged there are almost 1,500 households in priority need of housing in this part of the city.

The recording in question was of a February meeting between councillors and Stephen Blayney, director of Coogan & Co Architects; Alan Mains, RUC officer-turned-PR firm employee; and the former First Minister, Peter Robinson.

Presenting “Laburnum Leisure Village”, the trio laid out their plans for a sports themed hotel alongside 100 apartments, 280 car parking spaces, a 3G football pitch, tennis courts and a mini golf course on the site of the old Laburnum Playing Fields.

During the meeting some councillors asked whether the development would include any social housing. Those presenting the project said it would not, as it would not be economical.

While the 100 high-end apartments and hotel would generate income, most of the site’s leisure provision would be free to use for members of the public, the developers explained.

“Is there a demand for social housing in this area? Some councillors tell me there’s not,” Alan Mains asked.

Sinn Fein representative Mairead O’Donnell replied she was surprised at this statement as housing waiting lists are high right across the city.

This week, figures obtained from the Housing Executive show there are, as of March this year, just over 7,336 households in Belfast classified as in “housing stress” – meaning they are in priority need of housing.

In the east Belfast area, this figure is 1448. In the Housing Executive section known as “Middle East Belfast” – where the Laburnum Leisure Village site is located –  there are 565 households in housing stress.

The figures for those on waiting lists, including those in housing stress, are much higher – 10,100 it total across the city.

Speaking on Monday, Councillor O’Donnell said the figures “speak for themselves”.

“Just look at the numbers. I really believe developers should, indeed they must, have a social responsibility to people on housing waiting lists,” she said.

“It's simply crazy that some councillors actually welcomed the fact that there was to be no social housing on the site – it left me a bit dumbfounded.”

During the February meeting, several councillors welcomed the plans and dismissed concerns about their lack of any social housing provision, as there are several social housing developments in the surrounding area.

“I’m glad to hear you say about no social housing, because the people of Cameronian and Orby [neighbouring estates], where there are all private dwellings, would not be happy if there was social housing here,” Ulster Unionist group leader Jim Rodgers said.

Councillor O’Donnell said there is a stigma about social housing and people on social housing waiting lists that is “simply wrong”.

“In my own area in the Short Strand, the majority of the people would live in social housing,” she added.

“But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have the right to quality housing. We need to get away from this stigma, it's ridiculous.”

Two of those presenting Laburnum Leisure Village, Peter Robinson and Alan Mains, had been featured together in newspaper coverage before.

In October 2016, it was reported the former DUP leader had returned to the property game – in the form of assisting Paddy Kearney, who was at one time one of Nama's biggest borrowers in Northern Ireland.

Just 12 months prior, a Stormont committee probing the Nama sale heard from Peter Robinson and Alan Mains, then a security consultant, who accompanied Paddy Kearney to give evidence at the hearings.

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