The notorious Holyland area of South Belfast is costing authorities almost £3 million a year to maintain, a major conference looking at problems there has revealed.
The staggering figure was disclosed at the latest Holyland Stakeholder Forum, where a Belfast City Council (BCC) spokesperson unveiled that £2.9 million had been spent by agencies including the PSNI, council and Planning Service on trying to combat the problems and attempt possible solutions.
The forum was the third such meeting held since the infamous student riots of St Patrick’s Day 2009 and included interested parties such as lead agency, the Department of Employment and Learning (DEL), BCC, the Housing Executive, PSNI, the universities, churches, landlords and several residents’ groups.
Ray Farley, chair of the Holyland Residents’ Association, said he was “staggered” by the figure, which is made up of the council’s community safety wardens, cleansing team, noise response team, alcohol enforcement work, as well as PSNI costs, the Planning Service’s work in the area and the Housing Executive’s work on HMOs.
“It’s certainly a lot of money but I don’t know if it’s made that much of a difference, it’s very difficult to tell. One thing that certainly struck us as residents is there was a comparison between the 2001 census and now.
“Then there was 58 per cent of private rented accommodation in the Holyland now there is 94 per cent, which is an incredibly high figure. But then I suppose if you think if that money hadn’t been spent would things here be in an even worse condition?”
The first stage of a council-commissioned report into the Holyland was also discussed at the forum, with a pledge to make it public within the next few weeks. According to Ray, it centred on the residents’ long-desired purpose-built student accommodation in the city centre.
“The council has identified sites off the lower Dublin Road and around Bruce Street that it owns and the spokesperson said they could be used for housing to alleviate the pressure on the Holyland if necessary.
“I think this forum was definitely worth it because we were delighted to see the thinking is definitely now around moving students out of the Holyland and towards the city centre where there are no residents to annoy. That would go a long way to solving the problems here.”
A DEL spokesperson said Minister Stephen Farry was pleased to hear the progress made on a range of issues at the meeting.
“The minister looks forward to working with Belfast City Council in hosting a further forum in the new year to hear the final recommendations from its strategic study,” added the spokesperson.