A major site close to Ardoyne which campaigners hoped could be used for social housing is instead to be used for a job centre, the North Belfast News can reveal.
The old Dunnes Stores site at the corner of the Crumlin Road and Hillview Road is currently in private hands. However the NBN has learned that talks are underway between the owners and the Department of Social Development to secure the site for a massive new Jobs and Benefits office to replace the current Corporation Street offices.
The news comes after the Housing Executive conducted a survey asking local people what they thought should go on the site. The survey states that “when asked about the old Dunnes site at Hillview, more than four-fifths (85%) were in favour of funding being sought to put this site to good use as a shared community space.”
Sinn Féin reacted angrily to the survey, with Gerry Kelly claiming it was yet another example of official bodies being reluctant to deal with the housing issue.
“The eight acre former Dunnes Stores site on the Crumlin Road is a perfect opportunity for government to address some of the multiple equality needs in this constituency including homes, leisure and employment. But every time land which could be used to address inequalities in this constituency is identified, shared space is being used as a buffer to block meeting need.
“This has been the case not just here at the former Dunnes Stores site but also at the former Felden Training College site, the former Glengormley PSNI barracks site, Frederick Street and also the wider development around the Ulster University.”
The MLA said the recent survey held by the Housing Executive was another part of this strategy.
“The presentation of the findings in this survey as ‘positive for shared space’ by the Housing Executive are questionable. There’s no talk of shared space in unionist areas and that’s a clear demonstration of the sectarian outworkings of what’s involved here. Land in nationalist areas is at an absolute premium, yet regeneration schemes in unionist areas of this constituency have been used to repopulate areas blighted by loyalist paramilitaries. But where do they identify as possible sites for shared space? Yes, densely populated nationalist areas.”
The North Belfast News contacted the Housing Executive for a comment who said issues of policy should be addressed to the Department of Social Development. A Department for Social Development said it was a matter for the Housing Executive. The HE then issued a statement saying, “The land at Hillview is privately owned. There are no plans for social housing on this site.”
Asked why they could rule out social housing but still carry out a survey on its future, the spokeswoman said there were no plans for any developments and wouldn’t be while the land was in private hands.
Gerry Kelly singled out the DUP for implementing a policy of opposing any nationalist housing where it was proposed.
“This seems like a hangover from the controversial former Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland’s term in office.”
Newtownabbey DUP Councillor Philip Brett, who has opposed housing being built on the Glengormley barracks site, accused Gerry Kelly of sectarianism over Hillview site.
“The vast majority of people in North Belfast will see Mr Kelly's words as further evidence of Sinn Féin's attempt to create more artificial interfaces across North Belfast. The unionist population of North Belfast have been left in no doubt what the Sinn Féin strategy is, to ‘break the b*****ds’ as Sinn Féin President Mr Adams described it recently. All right minded thinking people will distance themselves from his remarks in the pursuit of keeping North Belfast moving forward.”