Last week saw the escalation of a number of campaigns across Belfast by the homeless, those living in poor housing and communities being squeezed by a pro-developer agenda within Belfast City Council and systematically excluded from decision making processes impacting the future of their families and communities.

The Equality Can’t Wait and Homes Now! campaigns united with others across the city to begin shining a spotlight on the people and bodies promoting this agenda within our democratic structures – as well as calling on elected officials, and anyone with influence, to use their power effectively to support people in dire need of housing.

Hillview: Call for an Independent Inquiry

The Equality Can’t Wait campaign, whose human rights activism has attracted three separate interventions by United Nations bodies in the last 10 years calling on the UK government to address religious inequality in housing to be addressed, released a report outlining the need for an independent inquiry into a disgraceful planning decision made by Belfast City Council Planning Committee in August 2017.

The decision to allow a retail only development to proceed at the 11.5 acre Hillview site in North Belfast – despite the chronic levels of homelessness and religious inequality and the alternative plans presented by campaigners – reflected a deeply sectarian and pro-developer agenda within Belfast City Council. However the Hillview decision breached a number of guidelines including withholding information from Councillors and the public, Councillors not declaring an interest, failure to consider illegal activity on the site and the disregarding of key Council obligations around equality.

The call for an Independent Inquiry has been publicly supported by Sinn Féin, SDLP, Green Party and People Before Profit.

Belfast City Council have refused to comment to the media on the call for an Inquiry.

Belfast@MIPIM

Last week also saw the formation of the Belfast Right to the City Alliance which PPR and Equality Can’t Wait have been involved in. Aiming to prioritise the interests of residents in promoting human rights, equality and sustainable development and strongly opposing economic agendas which relegate and dismiss these priorities, the first action by the Alliance was to protest against Belfast City Council’s decision to send a delegation to MIPIM – the “the premier event on the real estate calendar”

The MIPIM conference, held annually in Cannes-France, is publicly profiled as a networking forum where the city of Belfast can be promoted to interested investors. However the annual event has drawn heavy international criticism from groups and organisation concerned about the use of public assets, resources, land and planning processes to favour wealthy-international developers who have displayed no interest in enhancing the quality of people’s lives or tackling growing levels of inequality.

MIPIM has been labelled as a “champagne-soaked jamboree” where Council chiefs are “wined and dined by investors”. In 2014, the MIPIM UK conference in London attracted massive protests by social housing and anti-corruption campaigners.

The Alliance staged a protest at the launch of the delegation at Belfast’s MAC.

Gasworks Masterplan

On the same night as Belfast City Council’s Planning Committee granted planning permission for a retail-only development on an 11.5 acre site of prime property in North Belfast, they also gave permission for a commercial development in the Markets area on a piece of land that had been zoned for 150 units of social housing in the Gasworks development (South Belfast).

Last week, the Department for Communities held a consultation for the Gasworks site in The Radisson Hotel – currently located in the Gasworks itself. Homes Now! – a campaigning group based in the Markets area of South Belfast – staged a protest outside of the hotel, launching their Homes Now Pledge.

Protestors then entered into the hotel to make their views on the development loud and clear.

Equality Can't Wait Community Murals & Department's Consultation

And lastly, more murals across Belfast appeared last week exposing the successive failures of the Executive, Department for Communities and Housing Executive to take resolute action to address homelessness. Instead of dedicating resources to addressing the chronic shortage in social housing provision, the Department for Communities has launched a consultation aimed at making it more difficult for people to receive the housing need points which accurately reflect their circumstances. For more information, read PPR's consultation response 'Chasing HOMES, Not Points!'

To learn more, follow the campaigns on twitter:

@PPR_Org (#EqualityCantWait - #BuildHomesNow)

@HomesNowBelfast (#HomesNow)