Equality Can't Wait group at Hillview site in North Belfast

PPR have raised questions over a number of troubling land deals conducted by the Department for Communities which resulted in a loss to the public purse of over £1.1 million.

Information received under the Freedom of Information Act reveals that the Department spent huge sums of public money over the last ten years buying private land for social housing where the need for additional homes is low.

Nicola Browne, Director (Policy) at PPR said;

“Families in need of housing who are part of the Equality Can’t Wait campaign have consistently called on the Department for Communities and NIHE to secure land in order to build social housing to meet need.”

“Housing patterns and statistics clearly show that over 900 homes are needed to address the well documented housing inequality impacting the Catholic community in North Belfast. In that context, it beggars belief that the Department have instead used their powers to secure land where little need exists, and have done so at a huge cost to the public purse. “

The documents released under Freedom of Information legislation show that a £1.1million loss was incurred through the acquisition by the Department of three sites of land which were then sold at a premium to build social houses where little demand exists. Each of the areas where the sites are located (Ballysillan, Glenbryn, and Lower Oldpark) fall within the Northern Ireland Housing Executive’s Housing Needs Assessment Area North Belfast 2, which is composed of predominantly Protestant areas – and where the NIHE assess that only 38 more social homes are needed. In contrast, according to the NIHE, North Belfast 1 (made up of predominantly Catholic areas) has a need for 938 additional social homes.

Nicola Browne continued:

This raises questions as to how effectively the Department and NIHE are using their vesting powers.  The Department’s own guidance on vesting makes clear that use of these powers must be justified by housing need, and value for money. It is clear that these decisions fall short on both counts.

Examples include:

·         Between 2002 -2007 the Department acquired homes in Ballysillan for £922,855, but sold them for just £245,000 to Choice Housing Association to build 13 social homes, making a loss of £677,855.  

 

·         Department for Communities purchased a site in Glenbryn Park from NAMA in 2014 for £90,000 and sold it to Clanmil Housing Association in April 2016 for £20,000 for the purpose of building 12 family homes.

 

·         The Department acquired at least 10 homes in the Oldpark Road area of North Belfast between 2006-2007, at a cost of £431,222. They were sold to Choice Housing Association in March 2015 for only £50,000 to build 8 town houses, representing a loss of £381,222. 

Mohammed Idris and his family have been on the housing waiting list for three years since fleeing racist attacks in Tigers Bay. They are campaigning for homes on the 11 acre vacant Hillview Retail Park site in North Belfast. The former Hillview Retail Park was bought by NAMA and sold back to the private developer at a discount. £1.8m in charitable rates relief have been awarded on the site. The families have now called on the Department's to vest the land immediately for social housing. Mohammed said;

“We have had two more children in this hostel since we got here. My oldest boy has spent his whole life here and goes to school in the New Lodge. After the attacks we were advised where we would be safe by the Housing Executive. But because of the high demand and them not giving us intimidation points we have no chance. They say if we changed to low demand areas like Tigers Bay we would be re-housed right away. It’s so important that land is secured for homes where they are most needed.”

PPR confirmed that the Department responded to a request to vest the land, with an offical stating that NIHE must approach the Department to invoke vesting powers and that ‘despite a clear need for social housing in North Belfast, I can confirm that the NIHE have made no such request’.