My View: A radical approach is needed
MY department has responsibility for regeneration as well as housing. We are about more than just building houses. We are about building successful and sustainable communities, where people want to live.
Valuable work has been done to support some of our more disadvantaged communities through programmes such as neighbourhood renewal, but it is clear that, in some areas, this has not really worked.
There are still areas blighted by dereliction and decay, with empty houses that are boarded up and land that lies derelict and undeveloped.
These problems drag a community down, becoming magnets for anti-social behaviour and dumping. They blight the lives of the remaining residents. They are a lost opportunity.
I believe it is morally wrong to condemn people to living in such situations, year after year. I am determined to do something about it.
In the past, there was a tendency to simply bulldoze the empty properties, clear the site and walk away. But a bulldozer and some grass seed is simply not good enough. It leaves communities with the heart torn out of them.
Neither is it good enough to tinker with the problem. We need a more radical approach.
Earlier this year I visited inner-city areas in Liverpool and Manchester to see what was being done to tackle the blight, address the dereliction and rebuild communities.
We should not be parochial, or insular. It is important to look elsewhere for examples of good practice.
There, I saw communities that had once been blighted by dereliction, decline and despair, but which had been totally transformed and were places where people wanted to live.
Based on that experience, I am about to announce a number of pilot schemes to test this approach. I want to see if we can do in Northern Ireland what is already being done elsewhere.
I want to see how my department – working in partnership with local communities – can do it most effectively.