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SF urge vesting of land to fight housing crisis

CONTROVERSY: The Hillview site at the centre of the row CONTROVERSY: The Hillview site at the centre of the row
By Evan Short

A SINN Féin delegation has met with Department of Infrastructure officials to ask them to vest land in North Belfast to deal with the housing waiting list.

The meeting was held in the wake of the loss of the Hillview site to a retail development and the revelation that over £1.1 million of government money has been spent vesting land in loyalist areas, some of which will be used for social housing. That is despite Housing Executive statistics showing the need in nationalist areas to be much greater.

Party housing spokesperson, Carál Ní Chuilín, said it was a useful meeting where they pressed the officials on taking action.

“This was a constructive meeting with the Department for Communities at which we raised the demand for vesting powers to be used, particularly for prime sites such as Hillview on the Crumlin Road,” she said.

“People are absolutely shocked that planning permission was granted last week for a retail-only development at Hillview which excluded any social housing at this location.

“Today is the next step in the campaign for homes and amenities at key sites across the city including at Hillview, which should now be vested and brought into public ownership.

“There is a pattern clearly emerging where citizens find it increasingly hard to make ends meet.

“Decisions such as that backed by some politicians on the City Council’s Planning Committee do little to build public confidence that housing shortages, cuts to welfare and support, and a drought of community investment are being addressed.

“The Homes for Hillview campaign has been inspiring, with political parties, residents, trade unionists, traders and rights groups combining with a strong, united voice for social justice, a voice that will not be silenced.”

A spokesperson for the Department said: “The Department can confirm that it met representatives from Sinn Fein on 18 August to discuss a number of issues, including the need for social housing. During the meeting, the Department acknowledged the high demand for social housing in many area of Northern Ireland, including North Belfast.

“The statutory responsibility for assessing housing need lies with the Housing Executive, who work with local housing associations to identify potential development sites that are capable of meeting housing need. The Department relies on the advice of the Housing Executive and is committed to delivering new social housing in any area where housing need is shown to exist.

“Where housing need has been established in an area and it cannot be addressed because there are no suitable sites available, the NIHE may ask the Department to use its vesting powers to acquire land for social housing.

“The Department will consider using its vesting powers in these circumstances. However, the Department’s powers are limited because the vesting of land can be legally challenged by landowners. The Department has to be able to demonstrate very clearly that the land is needed and no other suitable sites are available and this is not straightforward in many of the sites in North Belfast. Nevertheless, the Department will continue to look for opportunities to assemble sites for housing development where there are opportunities to do so.”


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