South and East Belfast Sinn Féin -- Building an Ireland of Equals

Attempts to resolve Holyland issue gaining momentum (September 2010)

Last Tuesday I attended a Policing, Partners and the Community Together (PACT) meeting held in the Holylands area of South Belfast.

These meetings often offer an opportunity for the local community to sit down with members of the PSNI and other key stakeholders to try and resolve local problems.

The issues faced by the Holylands community have been well rehearsed in the columns of this paper, ranging from an increase in anti-social behaviour creating friction with long-term residents in the area; a break-down in community cohesion; the degradation of the local environment, including increased rubbish and litter in the area and over-proliferation of 'to let' signs; overcrowding in a number of properties; an over-proliferation of HMO's to poor community and environmental infrastructure and increasing crime rates.

All of this is unacceptable and has left many long-term residents in the area dreading the beginning of the academic year, year after year.

However, these problems, while greatest in the Holylands area, are not unique to this area.

As the number of HMO's in areas such as Ballynafeigh and Stranmillis and other parts of South Belfast increase, we are seeing the problems faced by long-term residents in the Holylands replicated throughout South Belfast.

This is problem which is relevant to all of the people of South Belfast, with any attempt at resolution offering hope to communities throughout the constituency.

I was pleased, therefore, to update those present at the PACT meeting, particularly residents from the Holylands area, about the recent awarding by Belfast City Council of the tender for the 'Strategic Study of the Holyland and wider University Area'.

I was even more pleased at how warmly this work was received by the residents who attended the meeting.

The move to award this tender will see the services of professional consultants engaged to develop proposals for a long-term comprehensive strategic plan for the Holyland and wider university area. The awarding of this tender grew from a motion which I proposed on Belfast City Council last December.

This motion called upon the Council to support the commissioning of a study, led by Council officials in conjunction with other agencies, that would specifically identify the underlying causes of the problems in the Holyland area and hopefully lead to the development of proposals for a long term strategic plan for the area. That motion was passed with cross-party support.

The passing of this motion cleared the way for Council officials to begin the process which has led to the recent decision to award the tender to carry out this study.

When drawing up the Council motion, and in the subsequent meetings with Council officials, it was my intention that the awarding of this tender would see the services of professional consultants engaged to develop proposals for a long-term comprehensive strategic plan for the Holyland and wider university area. This is precisely what has happened, and I am extremely pleased that we have now reached this stage.

Much good work has been carried out by various quarters, not least by the Employment and Learning Minister Reg Empey, to try and resolve this issue and this motion was intended to compliment all of this work and ensure that all work is carried out in a joined up, cross-departmental, way. A way that ensures that nobody can shirk their responsibilities on this issue.

The reality is that any long-term solution to these problems will not work unless there is ongoing engagement with key stakeholders, including local residents. It is my intention to ensure that such engagement takes place. All of those affected must have an input into developing the solution.

It is also essential that any recommendations which come out of this study are acted upon, any recommendations must be acted upon.

That is why we in Sinn Féin remains committed to ensuring local residents have an input into the study and that the recommendations which will come out of this study are taken forward and put at the heart of Belfast City Council and the Assembly Executive.

This is for the benefit of, not only the people who live and work in the Holylands area, but also on behalf of all the residents of South Belfast who are affected by this issue in some way.