We are great fans of what campaigning communities have done in partnership with PPR across the city of Belfast. More so given the daily struggles and obstacles they have had to overcome in a society emerging from conflict.
For more than a year now, as the Covid pandemic changed everything, we have had our eyes opened working with #BuildHomesNow campaigners.
Belfast is NOT the city we see on the negative news!
Brave people have stepped up with positive ideas and a hopeful vision for a better city and we are thrilled to be teaming up to deliver an exciting project fusing these ideas into the development of a prototype sustainable neighbourhood - based on the principle that Belfast’s future is bright.
I’ve been the policy director of the Town and Country Planning Association engaging with central government in Britain for years and we have seen our fair share of the doom and gloom of austerity and dead end politics, which at times seems paralysing and incapable of imagining any future at all, never mind a bright one.
But we have also overcome massive challenges and conflicts to build beautiful communities. None of this would have been possible if not for the hope and determination of ordinary people who will not take no for an answer when their families and future is on the line.
As we emerge from the pandemic, the harbingers of doom are circling again but we don’t have to accept a bleak future. Of course we can live happier, healthier and more secure lives. Change is inevitable and the status quo is clearly no longer an option for many of the increasingly diverse people who call Belfast home too.
We are acutely aware that Belfast is a city with a legacy of conflict and peace building, but also immense challenges of sectarianism, of racism and inequality, of poor housing and of the climate crisis.
What better way to build on the promises of peace and sustainability for future generations than to lay the foundations of a new way of living to show how these changes can benefit everyone - Finding decent homes for the homeless, creating healthy streets, stepping up to solve the climatic crisis and bringing lasting prosperity to all.
The people of Belfast will have heard a lot of waffly words in the past and who would fault anyone for doubting the potential for the future - ‘Shared space, sustainability, economic recovery, inclusion, consultation, participation, safe, connected… blah blah blah’ In every city on earth for the past twenty years these promises have been made and broken.
We must be honest that change isn’t easy but equally realistic about the rich possibilities that can help us lead better lives and build better homes.
Belfast can and should be the place where these promises are delivered, why not?
Our commitment to this project has emerged from a conversation about the particular problems of homelessness and the fact that land in Belfast that could have been used positively for the benefit of everyone has been left empty.
The Mackie’s site in west Belfast is our starting point, because it has long been identified by families in housing need as a no-brainer for housing development in the area of highest demand. Located on an interface where building homes is challenging, but not impossible.
Over many years #BuildHomesNow have built a consensus for this project that will pioneer new ways of giving people the homes and opportunities they deserve.
Hugh is Policy Director at the Town and Country Planning Association(TCPA), where he leads on policy development, briefings and engagement with central government and politicians.
Hugh has co-authored three books, including ‘Rebuilding Britain’ and ‘Town Planning in Crisis’ with Kate Henderson, and ‘The Art of Building a Garden City’ with Katy Lock and Kate Henderson.
He has led on TCPA campaign work on 'planning out poverty' and planning for people, and he is a strong critic of policies such as Permitted Development.
Hugh sits on the UK Government Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) Planning Sounding Board.
He has a Doctorate in Land Use Planning from the University of Sheffield, and he is an Honorary Professor at Queens University, Belfast.