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Last week Killultagh Properties and TSA Planning began a 12 week consultation on their proposals to develop 6 retail units at the currently empty Dunnes/Hillview site on the Crumlin Road, north Belfast.

The developers want to build a car show room and a drive through café.

Despite the growing levels of homelessness and chronic housing inequality impacting the Catholic community in north Belfast, which was raised again by the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Geneva last week, the developers have made no provision for social housing.

Last Wednesday (22nd June 2016) political representatives from five political parties (Alliance, SDLP, Sinn FéinThe Green Party and People Before Profit) supported the call by families from the Equality Can’t Wait campaign for social housing to be an integral part of any plan for the Dunnes/Hillview site. The families have collected 1,000 signatures to date on a petition which will be sent to the developers demanding much needed homes on the site.

The Dunnes/Hillview site is situated in the middle of areas experiencing some of the highest demand for social housing in the north of Ireland. It is one of the last big opportunities capable of addressing housing need in North Belfast. Latest figures from the Housing Executive (March 2014) outline a need for 666 new and additional social homes in Catholic communities across north Belfast, and a surplus of 72 social homes among the Protestant community. 

Yet, no strategy exists to address this festering inequality.

The failure by the NIHE and Department for Communities to secure land and build social homes has resulted in thousands of families living in dire housing circumstances: four generations in one home; years spent with children growing up in hostels; families living in debt and poor conditions in short term, expensive, private landlord properties; or in worst case scenarios, on the streets.

Kelly who has been on the waiting list for a home in north Belfast for over 2 years with her child said;

‘Dunnes Stores/Hillview is nearly twice the size of Girdwood – there is plenty of space for housing and shops or other things. My family have been classed as homeless for around 2 years now with no offers of housing. To neglect the need for housing on one of the last large areas of land in North Belfast will cause further stress to an already strained housing system and my family and the thousands already in need of a home. One of the basic human needs is shelter, not a drive through restaurant and a car show room. These things are a nice thing to have but not to the detriment of families in need of homes.’

The families' petition calls on every elected representative to use all of their powers at Belfast City Council and the Assembly to ensure homes for families are prioritised on the available land in the city.

The families’ ‘Build Homes Now’ campaign has received widespread support since it was launched.

In March Sinn Féin, the SDLP, Alliance Party and People Before Profit met with the families at Stormont and City Hall, signed their petition and agreed to support social and affordable housing on the five large sites they have identified in the city  - Sirocco, Mackies, Monagh Bypass, Belfast Harbour and Dunnes/Hillview.

Two weeks ago members of the group were in Geneva reporting to the United Nations Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights on the failure by the NI Executive to tackle long standing inequality in housing by capitalising on available land. No one from the NI Executive attended and there absence was both noted and criticised by the Committee.

PPR development worker Seán Brady said current plans deny rights and ignore need;

“The current plans are unacceptable because they ignore the rights of families in desperate housing need and effectively say 'you are not part of the future of this community’. It is clear that the plans are also unacceptable to MLA’s and councillors representing thousands of constituents across north Belfast.

“The planning application process has just begun and the families will be seeking support from elected representatives to ensure any development prioritises social housing to address homelessness. Two UN bodies, the Council of Europe, the Human Rights Commission, the Equality Commission and the Children’s Commission have all called for religious inequality to be addressed. This will only happen if once in a lifetime opportunities like Dunnes/Hillview are capitalised on.”