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‘Shared district’ claim rejected

Community leaders in Belvoir say they are “disappointed and disillusioned” by the way Northern Ireland Housing Executive’s Shared Neighbourhood Programme (SNP) is being run.

They were alarmed by a press release issued by the International Fund for Ireland (IFI), which funds the programme.

It said Belvoir was one of the estates to commit to the Shared Neighbourhood Programme — residents believed they were still being consulted on whether or not to participate.

Chairman of Belvoir Community Association Kirk Graham said: “While our association think the principle of the SNP is very good and we have been behind it 110%, we are utterly disillusioned at how it has been managed by the NIHE who wish to introduce the scheme in the area.

“Tensions flared up in the community after the IFI announced in the local paper that our estate was one of the 30 estates that had committed to the Shared Neighbourhood programme.

“This was false information as we hadn’t even collected all the SNP consultation questionnaires from the local residents, never mind collating their answers.

“We need to find out how this could have have happened at such a critical early stage. Some of the questions in the consultation were already controversial for some people to accept — it has put the whole thing in jeopardy.”

Gordon Lyness, chairperson of Belvoir Churches Association (BCA) echoed Mr Graham’s sentiments.

The IFI press release stated that 14 new housing areas (including Belvoir) had committed to the SNP, meaning “that over 60,000 people in Northern Ireland now live in a shared neighbourhood.”

Christian community worker Brian Dunwoody said: “Some residents tore up the questionnaires in our faces saying, ‘What’s the point of the questionnaire, sure the deal’s done.’ A lot of people were very annoyed and didn’t believe us — it has put into question the integrity of all the community leaders who had volunteered to put the consultation to the Belvoir community.

“Community groups have to respect local people’s wishes and we have serious doubts with the administration of this programme. We already had some issues with the lack of communication from those managing SNP but we decided to put that behind us and start afresh. Now this has happened, we need answers.”

A spokesperson for the Housing Executive said: “The recent IFI press release announced 14 new housing areas ‘as the latest participants’ in the programme – that is areas which had only just embarked on the programme.”

The spokesperson said the programme was an 18-month process, beginning with the questionnaire, the results of which would inform how the £8,000 shared neighbourhood funding would be spent in Belvoir over the coming year.

“It is only at the end of this programme that an estate is branded as a shared neighbourhood and this will only happen if it is the wish of the community. The Housing Executive will continue to support all the residents and groups in Belvoir and facilitate them on their good relations journey,” the spokesperson said.

Belfast Telegraph