Belfast Telegraph

Women win court battle over Belfast house values at interface

A mother and daughter who quit their Northern Ireland homes amid repeated sectarian attacks have won a legal battle over the valuation of the properties.

The Court of Appeal ruled that adequate reasons were not given for a 25% reduction in the prices for Rosaleen and Annette Cooley's houses at an east Belfast interface.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said: "We cannot be satisfied that the valuation exercise was lawfully carried out."

The Cooleys issued proceedings after an initiative to acquire properties from intimidated owners assessed their Mountpottinger Road properties as being worth £41,000 and £40,000.

They argued that the appraisal under the Housing Executive's Scheme for the Purchase of Evacuated Dwellings (SPED) should ignore adverse security considerations.

An appeal was lodged after the High Court dismissed their judicial review challenge.

Rosaleen Cooley, 73, and her 54-year-old daughter endured years of criminal damage and abuse while living in an area blighted by disorder and violence.

Between 2001 and 2011 around 20 different incidents of stones being thrown at their houses were reported to police.

Damage was also caused to cars, doors and windows on the properties.

In March 2011 a bullet was discovered in Annette Cooley's hallway.

As the mother and daughter both attended their GP due to health issues, SPED applications were made later that year.

Initially their applications were turned down after the PSNI refused to issue Chief Constable's Certificates required for the scheme.

Although it was accepted that they have been directly or specifically threatened or intimidated, police concluded in November 2011 they were not at risk of death or serious injury.

But following a previous legal challenge senior judges quashed the PSNI's decision.

Land and Property Services valuation of the properties as having market value of £54,000 and £53,000 was then reduced by 25% to reflect their interface location.

In fresh judicial review proceedings lawyers for the Cooleys claimed the assessment was inconsistent with a SPED provision that purchase prices are to be determined as though the sale were "without adverse security considerations".

They contended that the valuer should have asked how much the properties would be worth in their location if not subject to attack based on sectarian hostility to the occupier.

Ruling on the appeal, Sir Declan said no basis for the 25% reduction had been disclosed.

Defensive architecture, noise, regular marches or parades and incidents of vandalism in the area can be taken into account, the judge acknowledged.

"Those factors do... properly describe the character of this interface area while excluding the adverse security considerations which led to the application," he said.

But without enough reasons for the price assessment, the court was left uncertain about the lawfulness of the process.

With counsel for the Housing Executive having confirmed it would ensure the valuation exercise will be carried out in line with the verdict, Sir Declan confirmed: "There is no order required from us other than to allow the appeal for the reasons given." ends

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