VIEW GUEST EDITORIAL: ‘Social housing in Belfast has been repeating flawed patterns of occupation and density for decades, and these need to be questioned’

By VIEW visitor editor Agustina Martire, Senior Lecturer in Structure at Queen’s College Belfast

By the top of March 2021, there have been almost 44,000 households on the social housing ready record in Northern Eire, and greater than 6,000 of them in Belfast. There are over 80 hectares of vacant land in Belfast in public possession, with a few of that land shortly falling into builders palms.

It’d look as if that is solely an issue of presidency insurance policies referring to the housing infrastructure and financial system. However that is additionally within the remit of architects, planners and designers, because it pertains to the bodily growth of the locations we dwell in, and people are designed and controlled by professionals and officers in these disciplines.

Social housing in Belfast has been repeating flawed patterns of occupation and density for many years, and these must be questioned. If the ambition of Belfast Metropolis Council of bringing 66,000 extra individuals to the interior metropolis is to be fulfilled, there must be a cautious spatial technique for it, one that’s truthful to all residents and is linked, wholesome and cozy. The privatisation of public land and the present patterns of density don’t contribute to those goals. Some current examples of privatisation or reallocation of public land embrace:

1 – social housing changed by scholar lodging in Little Donegall Avenue;

2 – PSNI land on Ormeau Street, the place social housing was changed by a build-to-rent residence constructing;

3 – the Mackies website, 13 hectares of DfC land handed to Belfast Metropolis Council for the event of a greenway.

Whereas the greenway solely occupies about eight hectares (which is already bigger than wanted), the aim of the remaining 5 hectares just isn’t being mentioned. Construct-to-rent tenure, scholar lodging and a greenway with out connections to neighbourhoods don’t serve the needs of a extra equitable distribution of housing, whereas these plots of land could possibly be very effectively suited to blended tenure housing and blended use floor flooring.

By way of housing density, the issues are self-evident. Non-public and public housing is developed both too excessive or too removed from the town centre. Excessive-rise, high-density housing such because the Obel tower has a big majority of flats rented to non permanent residents, and is now the third constructing of its kind to be vacated as it isn’t structurally sound. In the meantime, Tribeca Belfast, Titanic Quarter and Sirocco Waterside suggest high-rise, one-and-two-bedroom non-public flats, with separate social housing tower blocks on the sting or exterior their crimson line. All these initiatives promise to offer housing within the metropolis however when you have a look at the element, they don’t align with the Belfast Agenda, LDP, or the decision for proof for the Housing Technique, as they don’t present real blended use, blended tenure or a public participation plan. The developments are all too massive, too tall and don’t assure to offer the community of companies wanted by individuals shifting into a brand new space. These initiatives promise to ship 20 per cent social and reasonably priced housing, however the definition of affordability just isn’t agreed upon, which may imply leaving many potential residents out of the system.

Aisling Madden: Light Density proposal for Sailortown, Belfast. Grasp in Structure Thesis, 2020

On the opposite finish, non-public and social indifferent and semi-detached cul-de-sac low-density housing sprawls predominate within the periphery of the town. Non-public housing corresponding to Castlereagh by Turley’s for 322 houses, Gainsborough Drive by TSA planning for 28 houses, and social housing corresponding to Mill Race by Eglinton developments for 150 social houses, Visteon by Radius housing for 196 social and 48 reasonably priced houses, or Fort Inexperienced by Radius Housing reasonably priced and social housing scheme, all have a collection of issues in widespread: they’re solely housing, with no companies included within the growth; they’re low density, subsequently harder and costly to warmth and funky; they’re poorly linked to the town centre, forcing pointless use of personal vehicles; and so they perpetuate a density mannequin that’s out of date and discarded in many of the world in the present day.

So how will we cope with these issues of excessively excessive and low density? Light density is usually a sound and sustainable different because it encompasses 4 qualities: mid-rise, mixed-use, mixed-tenure and public participation.

Light density proposes a mid-rise scale acceptable to the native neighbourhood, which in Belfast could possibly be between two and 5 storeys. Light density follows a course of that stops displacement of individuals and avoids demolition of present housing inventory by constructing on vacant and left over websites. The idea is more and more utilized by city designers, together with teams corresponding to Create Streets and Sturdy Cities.

Throughout the StreetSpace Venture, light density additionally encompassess a mixture of tenures, to make sure social variety. Combined tenure and affordability are vital to maintain variety in city neighbourhoods. Social, council and public housing mixed with non-public housing and cooperative housing have a tendency to offer extra inclusive environments. Analysis constantly reveals that neighbourhoods with a larger number of housing varieties and residential density have a larger high quality of houses which might be reasonably priced to low-income renters (Aurand 2010).

A mixture of makes use of can be important, to keep away from zoning that stops energetic journey and damages the surroundings. Combined-use areas can present a lot simpler entry to companies than these much less dense (Bramley et al 2009). Retail and companies close to workplaces can facilitate extra energetic journey, whereas densely constructed areas are extra adaptable than single-use, low-density ones (Porta and Romice 2017). Combined-use, particularly the mix of housing, retail, well being, schooling and light-weight trade has confirmed to do effectively when it comes to each local weather and social sustainability, encouraging social combine, fewer automobile journeys and extra resilient communities.

For greater than 20 years, public participation within the UK has been within the agenda of housing provision, each private and non-private realms, and this ought to be explored additional with extra artistic methods of participation corresponding to co-design, which has confirmed profitable in Northern Europe and is now being applied all through the continent.

Light density deserves additional finding out and testing. One of these housing growth has proved to be a extra sustainable mannequin of housing growth internationally. Is it time to attempt it in Belfast?

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