Council to vote again on west Belfast greenway plan – Investigations & Analysis


Site of Mackie's former textile factory in west Belfast. Photo by Ethan Harman.

Web site of Mackie’s former textile manufacturing unit in west Belfast. Picture by Ethan Harman.

TODAY will see one other Belfast Metropolis Council Planning Committee vote over proposals for a greenway on a significant plot of public land in west Belfast.

Encompassing the 25-acre web site the place Mackie’s textile manufacturing unit was previously positioned, the ‘Forth Meadow Community Greenway’ was given the greenlight by the council’s planning committee simply over one-month in the past.

Housing rights campaigners from Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR) lodged formal objections to the proposals and wished to verbally elevate their considerations previous to the final vote which came about on the finish of June.

However they had been “excluded from the assembly”, stated PPR’s deputy director Sean Brady. His organisation has been calling for social housing on the Mackie’s web site for the final decade.

At 5 pm at the moment, the council is ready to ‘re-hold’ the vote on the greenway proposal which traverses this land. The proposal contains no plans for social housing.

PPR’s Mr Brady advised The Element: “It’s unusual that the vote is going on once more and we’re not sure as to the council’s reasoning for this.

“Certainly, we had been solely knowledgeable by the council on Wednesday (10 August) which supplies us a number of working days to attempt to perceive and reply once more.

“We’ll after all once more elevate our considerations to the very best of our capacity on the subsequent vote and would implore councillors to see sense and vote in opposition to these proposals which fail to account for the large want for social housing on this space on this publicly-owned web site.”

The Mackie’s greenway was initially voted by way of by the council planning committee virtually one-year in the past, in September 2021.

This approval was then subjected to a profitable judicial evaluate taken by a homeless household on the social housing ready listing in west Belfast.

Belfast Metropolis Council’s authorized staff accepted the planning choice was illegal earlier than the case reached a full listening to.

Because of this, on the finish of Might 2022, the approval of the greenway was quashed by the Excessive Courtroom – however the proposal then went again to the council planning committee in late June and was voted by way of.

As we speak will see the matter returned to the planning committee once more. Belfast Metropolis Council stated this was as a result of authorized recommendation obtained concerning the “talking rights” of objectors on the June 2022 vote.

The council additionally stated: “Further audio system requested to talk shortly earlier than the assembly began, however that they had not offered their consent to be recorded.

“As soon as the objectors offered consent, the hyperlink was instantly issued in order that they may be part of the (digital) assembly.

“While the objectors had been in a position to current to (the) committee with their solicitor it’s clear that there was some confusion.

“Subsequently, with a view to keep away from any suggestion of procedural unfairness, it was thought of applicable to permit an extra alternative to the objectors to handle the committee earlier than the choice is taken.”

PPR’s Mr Brady stated: “The primary choice of the committee to approve the greenway at Mackie’s was discovered to be illegal by the Excessive Courtroom. The second choice was unfair.

“Officers are actually telling councillors to once more vote for a similar plan. If the committee decides to approve the plans for a 3rd time, critical questions should be requested of their judgement.”

Take Again the Metropolis

DfC Minister Deirdre Hargey. Photo by William Cherry, Press Eye.

DfC Minister Deirdre Hargey. Picture by William Cherry, Press Eye.

The Mackie’s web site is owned by the Division for Communities (DfC), the Stormont division with duty for social housing. The division is ready to switch its land to Belfast Metropolis Council for the greenway plan.

As well as, the Division for Infrastructure (DfI) has dedicated £750,000 for this west Belfast ‘masterplan’. Each DfC and DfI are headed up by Sinn Féin ministers, Deirdre Hargey and John O’Dowd respectively.

The Mackie’s web site is in west Belfast, a Sinn Féin stronghold, which can be in chronic need of more social housing.

Sinn Féin councillors have to date, together with unionist get together representatives on the planning committee, twice voted in favour of the greenway proposals which embrace no plans for social housing on the Mackie’s web site.

The get together believes the greenway “has the potential to reinforce the standard of life for native residents and employees” and that the “local people would attest” to this.

Nonetheless, PPR’s Sean Brady stated: “Sinn Féin is rising in reputation within the south, off-the-back of progressive housing platforms and the get together has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with homeless campaigners on the Mackie’s web site calling for houses prior to now.

“However the proof is within the pudding and they don’t seem to be taking motion to ship houses at Mackie’s.”

Final week, at an occasion run by the Take Back the City coalition – which PPR is a member of – different designs for the Mackie’s web site, which embrace social housing, had been mentioned by architects from completely different elements of the world.

Ultimate submissions from these worldwide consultants might be introduced on the finish of September 2022 at which level a successful design might be chosen by the coalition.

Mr Brady stated the “plans being drawn up present what’s doable at Mackie’s, the full transformation of housing on this space of west Belfast”.

PPR’s deputy director additionally stated: “Minister Hargey not too long ago stated she can be open to seeing plans for social housing on the Mackie’s site, but that she hasn’t seen any.

“Ultimately week’s Take Again the Metropolis coalition occasion they had been placed on present for anybody to see and nobody from the division confirmed up.”

Mr Brady added that Minister Hargey particularly and “numerous different Sinn Féin representatives” had been invited to attend the occasion “however none got here”.

In the meantime, the DfC maintained that the Mackie’s greenway plan has been “extensively consulted on” and that it “has group assist to construct connections and cohesion throughout communities”.

The division additionally advised The Element the minister “will take a look at all proposals regarding housing schemes”.

A Sinn Féin spokesperson advised The Element the get together is “dedicated to delivering top quality social and inexpensive housing” based mostly on want, however known as the Mackie’s web site a “very particular case” and a historic “flashpoint for sectarian battle”.

The get together additionally stated: “In 2021, the Mackie’s web site and Lanark Manner noticed some of the worst sectarian rioting for years, inflicting nice misery for native households.”

As well as, Sinn Féin made the declare PPR has not consulted with native residents – who the get together stated are involved a couple of long-standing want for primary infrastructure within the space.

Nonetheless, The Element has seen copies of intensive correspondence despatched by PPR to Sinn Féin representatives, different political events, native residents’ teams and Stormont departments in relation to the choice plans being drawn up for the Mackie’s web site.

PPR’s Mr Brady stated “a whole lot of individuals, together with native residents” took half within the Take Again the Metropolis occasion final week and that, additionally in attendance, had been folks “dwelling in native homeless hostels and personal landlord lodging, to not point out asylum seekers who’re dwelling regionally in horrible situations”.

He additionally stated: “Infrastructure considerations might be addressed simply but when there’s a blanket opposition to houses this isn’t sustainable. Nobody ought to have a veto on housing rights.

“We want to once more invite Sinn Féin and any residents Sinn Féin are speaking with to fulfill and focus on how greatest to form the positioning to ship for everybody.”

Mr Brady added that the Mackie’s proposals being drawn up by the varied groups of worldwide architects for the Take Again the Metropolis Coalition have the “potential to bridge the sectarian divide, paving the best way ahead for future generations to reside side-by-side”.

He continued: “To be clear, we now have introduced plans which may ship a greenway, houses, jobs and the council’s funding commitments however these are being ignored by decision-makers repeatedly.”

Riots at Lanark Way in April 2021. Photo by Kelvin Boyes, Press Eye.

Riots at Lanark Manner in April 2021. Picture by Kelvin Boyes, Press Eye.

Cash

The Forth Meadow Group Greenway at Mackie’s is considered one of three (2014-2020) Peace IV EU funded ‘shared areas’ initiatives in Belfast. The opposite two are the Black Mountain Shared Space Project and the Shankill Shared Women’s Centre.

Every of the three initiatives are centered in west Belfast. General, these three initiatives are set to price near £16m. The greenway is to price £5.1m with the EU cash making-up the majority of the funding.

Minister Hargey and DfC officers, who’re dedicated to transferring land to the council for the greenway, have held discussions with each the Clonard Residents Affiliation – which senior republican, Sean Murray, is a director of – and the Clonard Neighbourhood Improvement Venture “relating to considerations the local people would have if housing is constructed on this web site”.

In the meantime, Belfast Metropolis Council has listed the Clonard Neighbourhood Improvement Partnership as a stakeholder in relation to its plans for the greenway at Mackie’s.

This group can be set to assist with the supply of providers on the Shankill Shared Ladies’s Centre, one other of the three ‘shared areas’ initiatives, for which €6.5m has been allotted.

One other group which Belfast Metropolis Council engaged with as stakeholders, relating to the Forth Meadow Group Greenway, is the Twaddell Woodvale Residents Affiliation which Winston Irvine is a director of.

Mr Irvine is a senior determine within the Loyalist Communities Council, an umbrella group for loyalist paramilitary organisations. He was recently arrested by officers investigating the hoax bomb attack on the Republic of Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney.

The senior loyalist was launched on bail for alleged firearms prices. He resigned from the Woodvale and Shankill Community Housing Association within the fall-out from his arrest.

Mr Irvine was additionally suspended without pay from his job with Intercomm, a Belfast-based conflict-resolution organisation.

Sinn Féin’s Conor Maskey, who’s deputy chair of Belfast Metropolis Council’s Planning Committee, is operations supervisor of Intercomm. Intercomm took on duty for enabling folks to “enjoy the Forth Meadow Community Greenway and promote the shared space”.

In the meantime, solicitor Nicholas Quinn – who launched the judicial evaluate in opposition to the Mackie’s greenway on behalf of a homeless household on the social housing ready listing in west Belfast – stated he’ll take into account reigniting the authorized problem, if the greenway is voted by way of at the moment’s council assembly.

Mr Quinn advised The Element: “We’ve obtained the identical foundation of the problem which we introduced ahead beforehand, offered the greenway proposal doesn’t considerably change.

“It’s finally then a case of the court docket deciding whether or not or not any of the grounds we beforehand superior on the depart stage, for which permission was granted, are worthy of being maintained.”

The lawyer referenced how his aspect didn’t have to “see by way of” these authorized arguments over the last judicial evaluate course of, because the council conceded on a “discrete level”.

Mr Quinn stated it might be argued the proposals, set to be voted on once more at the moment, are legally untimely as a result of native improvement plans being incomplete.

He additionally stated the positioning is presently “designated for commerce and the native economic system, which a greenway isn’t”.

Mr Quinn added: “So, there are planning coverage stipulations which we predict are being put aside, ignored or diluted. I feel that may trigger potential issues for the council in the end.

“The council will concentrate on the truth that there stay different authorized challenges, ancillary to the one we successfully compromised on, that haven’t gone away.”



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