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June 2010 - Good News For Housing

The 20th May was a good day for people in North Belfast as Margaret Ritchie announced that her department would be investing £38 million to redevelop housing in North Belfast. This money, which will lead to massive regeneration in the Upper Long Streets, Parkside and Queen Victoria Gardens follows on from the announcement in February that work will soon commence on building houses on the site of the former Girdwood army barracks.

Over the past three years I have highlighted the shortcomings of the current Stormont Executive and its failure to deal with many of the issues which we currently face- reform of the education system, indecision over a national stadium, dealing with the economic crisis, the gerrymander of the Justice Department and the restructuring of local government, but to name a few.

However throughout the past three years as Minister for Social Development, Margaret Ritchie has shown herself to be the most capable Minister around the Executive table. Her department has delivered for people, not just in North Belfast but throughout Northern Ireland. Across the North it is clear to see the good work that the Department of Social Development has carried out- not least in the area of housing. When she was appointed as DSD Minister in May 2007 Margaret set out her stall very clearly when she said, “Give me the money and I will build the houses.” She did just that.

Not only has Margaret Ritchie built more social houses than any other Minister, but just as importantly, she has built better homes. Margaret Ritchie, at the invitation of local residents, has visited the Upper Long Streets, Parkside Gardens and Queen Victoria Gardens on a number of occasions, to see firsthand, the condition of the houses and how local people have had to live. The Minister promised the people of North Belfast that she would do everything she could for them. She never promised anything she could not deliver. She engaged in dialogue with the community from the very start and at every step of the way kept the community involved and informed.

The residents of the Upper Long Streets, Parkside and Queen Victoria Gardens have been fighting for the redevelopment of their areas for over ten years. The announcement of these redevelopment plans came about after many years of lobbying by these residents. They were never willing to accept ‘No’ as an answer and they never gave up belief that redevelopment would come.

The redevelopment of the Upper Long Streets, Parkside and Queen Victoria Gardens, alongside the redevelopment of Girdwood and the Crumlin Road Gaol site have the potential to transform the face of North Belfast for generations to come. In my opinion these projects, once completed, will serve as an economic catalyst for the regeneration for this part of the City. After too many years of underinvestment North Belfast is finally starting to see its fair share of funding from central government.

The changes which we see are tangible and will be felt by a great many people in our community. We want to reduce the number of people in housing stress who are on the housing list. We want to see derelict land being used to provide homes for families. And we want to see high quality housing which meets acceptable standards for living in the twenty-first century. These are the challenges which we face over the years ahead but looking at the great work which has been carried out over the past three years I believe it is a challenge that we are more than capable of meeting.

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