THE Belfast Trust is refusing to hand over prime housing land in the heart of West Belfast – even as homeless figures soar ever-higher.
And despite repeated calls for the conversion of the four-acre site at Broadway Towers to accommodate homeless families, the Trust says it will hold on to the land — even though it won’t say what plans, if any, it has for the dilapidated buildings and valuable acreage.
Documents seen by the Andersonstown News this week prove that health bosses saw off the last bid to have the land zoned for housing in 2016 by claiming they were going to build labs there. Five years later, no such plan has materialised.
Amazingly, the Trust has stonewalled community appeals for access to the land for the best part of two decades. Residents began to be decamped from the three crumbling towers as early as 2012, with the last gone by January 2015.
Now documents seen by belfastmedia.com show that the last concerted push to have the land released for public housing was rebuffed by health chiefs in 2016 — when Sinn Féin held the ministry for health.
Previously, DUP ministers and, more latterly, the Ulster Unionist health minister, have declined to move on the release of the site.
In their heyday, the three blocks — Broadway, Grosvenor, and Victoria — were home to 200 health workers but after repairs to the towers were estimated at £25m, the Trust decided to have residents vacate the buildings — putting additional pressure on local housing stock.
Housing campaigners agree that the RVH daycare facility on the site could remain even as up to 100 much-sought-after units of housing could replace the towers.
327 car parking spaces are accommodated on the site — sparking complaints that cars are prioritised before housing by health chiefs.
According to Housing Executive figures released in December 2020, there are 4,140 people on the housing waiting list in West Belfast – up by around 1,000 since community reps first raised the potential for social homes at the Broadway complex.
The Belfast Trust had previously suggested earmarking the towers site for laboratory accommodation but the Andersonstown News understands no business case for labs has been drawn up by the Trust nor any planning application lodged.
In a statement to the Andersonstown News, a spokesperson said the Trust “continues to review its options as to the future plans for this site”. However, this week, the Trust refused to be drawn on what options it was considering.
Sinn Féin MLA Fra McCann, who met the Belfast Trust in recent weeks and who appealed through the Andersonstown News in 2012 for the site to be handed over for homes, said he was frustrated at continued foot-dragging by health officials.
“We had argued that the site should be declared surplus to requirements and we said that there should be social housing put on the site,” he said.
“My argument has always been that the first thing you see when you come into Belfast from the motorway is three dilapidated towers.
“At one stage they (Belfast Trust) had promised me that they would take down the towers, but that hasn’t materialised.
“In the past number of weeks, I was at a meeting where Paul Maskey MP had a run at them about the site.
“It’s very frustrating when you see a piece of land like that, which could be a strategic place for housing, being continuously put on the long finger.”
Mr McCann said that while it would be “remiss” not to consider building labs at the site if needed, the Trust had failed to adequately progress any such proposal.
“I think the site would be ideal for housing,” he added.