BBC’s Spotlight - ‘tip of the iceberg’ of systemic housing discrimination against Catholics in Nigel Dodds MP constituency

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Tuesdays ( 13th March 2018) BBC investigative journalism programme Spotlight revealed a convergence of interests and activities around the controversial Hillview site in North Belfast involving politicians, paramilitaries, a private developer and public authorities, which has prevented the development of social housing in an area of chronic need.

Over the last 10 years successive United Nations body have called for religious inequality in north Belfast to be addressed.  

The BBC undercover documentary focussed on the illegal market allegedly ran by paramilitaries on the site. However, big questions remain for elected representatives and public authorities, including;

·   Why did the Northern Ireland Housing Executive block the development of 100 social homes at Hillview, citing a requirement for ‘community and political consensus’ – in contravention of their duties under the Good Friday Agreement?

·   How much has multimillionaire property developer Frank Boyd, Killultagh Estates and associated companies, benefitted from Departmental loans, rates relief and public policy decisions?

·   Why did Belfast City Council officials withhold information regarding illegal activity at the site from planning committee members voting on a ‘retail-only’ application in August 2017?

·   What has been the role of Nigel Dodds MP and other DUP politicians?

Over the following week, PPR will launch a website making public volumes of government documentation obtained under Freedom of Information legislation to answer these questions.

The documents reveal ongoing, unjust and prejudicial treatment of the Catholic community in North Belfast driven by successive Ministers for Housing (including Nigel Dodds MP and Nelson McCausland) and a broad range of public authorities unwilling to execute their equality obligations under the Good Friday Agreement.

Seán Brady, of Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR), said:

‘Spotlight is the tip of the iceberg. This information will shine a light on discrimination in social housing policy and a corruption of public services which fuels sectarianism and undermines the core equality principles of the Good Friday Agreement. What happens next at Hillview will be a litmus test of our fragile peace process. It is time for the interests of homeless families to be served at Hillview.’

There are over 12,000 people on the housing waiting list in Belfast with over 6,000 in housing stress and 3,000 homeless. PPR supports the homeless families of ‘Equality Can’t Wait – Build Homes Now’ in a campaign to build social housing on land in short supply in ‘high demand’ housing areas of Belfast.

Some of the documents (links below) relate to the Hillview site where there has been a convergence of political, private developer and unlawful activity. The 11.5 acre Hillview Retail Park, owned by Frank Boyd, Killultagh Estates and his son Brendan Boyd, The Hillview Centre, is situated on the now notorious Orange Order marching route between the Catholic and Protestant populations of north Belfast. The documents reveal the extent of political and state support for wealthy owners Frank Boyd and his son Brendan;

  1. NAMA bailout - Hillview Retail Park was acquired by NAMA from Frank Boyd, Killultagh Estates and sold back to Frank Boyd at reduced rate by Cerberus.
  2. Killultagh Estates received loans for the development of Hillview from the Department for Communities which have been written off - the terms and conditions of the loan(s) have since been ‘destroyed’ by the Department for Communities.
  3. Killultagh Estates / The Hillview Centre has benefitted from £1.8m in charitable and vacant rates relief from the Department for Finance despite an unlawful money making operation for over 13 years – Crumlin Road Car Boots sale. SF recently called on the Auditor General to investigate http://www.sinnfein.ie/contents/48578
  4. Belfast City Council granted planning permission for ‘retail’ only in August 2018. Council officers withheld information from the planning committee including enforcement orders against Killultagh Estates regarding the unlawful activities at the site. Council officers cited the market as evidence of the ‘interest’ for retail.Four parties have called for a independent enquiry
  5. The Northern Ireland Housing Executive blocked the development of 100 homes on the site in 2014 by refusing to provide housing need support to the North Belfast Housing Association without ‘community and political consensus’ – a breach of ‘objective need’ equality duties which effectively gives veto powers over housing development on the site.

The documents PPR will release include:

1.   Email thread - PPR correspondence. Attempts to uncover information from The Department for Communities, The Northern Ireland Housing Executive, Belfast City Council, The Department for Finance, The Audit Office, The Charity Commission, The Department for Economy and other authorities.

2.   DUP Ministers and special adviser interventions to build homes in majority protestant communities where no need exists and stop homes from being built to tackle the high demand in largely Catholic areas.

a.   Letter from Nigel Dodds supporting retail only at Hillview Retail Park

b.   Denial of housing inequality impacting Catholic community by Nelson McCausland whilst minister for Housing

c.   Purchase of Glenbryn land for social housing approved by Minister McCausland for social housing following approach by DUP councillors despite Minister’s acknowledgement in writing of ‘very low housing need’ in the area.

3.   The extent of inequality 

a.   2017 data on North Belfast Housing Applicants, applicants in housing stress and allocations

b.   homes built V’s homes needed

c.   NIHE statistics on ‘residual need’ showing 38 additional homes needed in Protestant areas of North Belfast, with 938 additional homes needed in Catholic areas

4.   The availability of land and resources

a.   Land held by DFC

b.   Land held by NIHE

5.   The role of Belfast City Council

a.   Sectarian voting on planning committee and information withheld regarding identity and enforcement proceedings surrounding unlawful market activity on Hillview Retail Park

b.   Written refusal to carry out enquiries by Chief Executive, Suzanne Wylie

6.   The role of the Department For Communities 

a.   Special adviser directions to buy land at a loss and to build homes where no need exists

b.   Economic appraisal to buy land at Glenbryn for housing despite little housing need

c.   Financial assistance provided to Frank Boyd – the private developer at Hillview – details ‘destroyed’

d.   Land Purchased By Department for Communities for social housing in areas where little need exists

7.   The role of the Department for Finance

a.   Failure to collect rates from private developer Frank Boyd

b.   Charitable rates relief awarded despite unlawful money making operations including market and car wash

c.   Total money awarded for rates relief

8.   The role of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive

a.   Letter shows refusal to grant housing need support for 100 homes at Hillview.

b.   Change in polices and information collation to mask inequality

  i.   Comments from US Statistician Mark Dynarski on NIHE changes in how waiting times are measured and ‘trimming’ of applicants (2011)

  ii.   PPR’s Equality Can’t Wait Report (2013)

  iii.   Chasing Homes, Not Points – A Critique of the Fundamental Review of Social Housing Allocation (2017)

PPR Reports

Surrounded by land, but no Space for Housing? (2015)

The Equality Can’t Wait activists identify key sites available for social housing in Belfast.

Funding For New Social Housing (2016)

Report identifying lack of land as key barrier to social house building

Build Homes Now! A Sustainable Solution for Dunnes/Hillview, North Belfast (2016)

Hillview: The Case for An Independent Inquiry (2017)

International calls and local commissions calls to tackle inequality

Equality Commission NI - Key Inequalities on Housing

Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission

Northern Ireland Children and Young People’s Commissioner

CESCR Concluding Observations on examination of UK Government 2009

UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing 2013

CESCR Concluding Observations on examination of UK Government 2016