Mackie's: homeless families refused to be sidelined

West Belfast family take Belfast City Council to court over ‘decision to sideline housing rights’ at Mackie's site Seán McBradaigh  |  Fri Mar 11 2022
Mackie's: homeless families refused to be sidelined

Last Thursday (10.03.2022), at the High Court, Mr Justice Humphries granted leave for judicial review to challenge a controversial vote by Belfast City Council’s planning committee to re designate a large section of the Mackie’s site in west Belfast for the purposes of a green way. Campaigners say the move by council ‘sidelines housing rights’. The family taking the legal action are part of the Take Back the City coalition and have been granted anonymity from reporting by the court. The court has ruled that the applicant ‘shall hereby be referred to as JR204.’

My family is just like thousands of other families in this city. We work hard, do our best and hope the politicians in charge do the same. But the decision made by Belfast City Council denied my rights and the rights of every other family in this city who need a home.”

On 14 September 2021 Councillors from the DUP, Sinn Féin and the PUP voted down a request to defer a decision regarding Council’s plans for Mackie’s until homeless families and independent legal and planning experts could address the committee. The site is vacant, located in the area of highest housing demand in the city and almost entirely owned by the department responsible for social housing provision – the Department for Communities, led by Sinn Féin Minister, Deirdre Hargey.

Campaigners have previously called on the Minister to apply the political party’s southern housing policies to the Mackies site in west Belfast. The Minister has made a public commitment to ‘radical’ housing reform and to build 100,000 homes over the next fifteen years. The campaigners are calling for a change of plans by Council and an urgent intervention from the Minister to guarantee social housing at Mackie’s.

Speaking after the hearing, JR204 said;

My family is just like thousands of other families in this city. We work hard, do our best and hope the politicians in charge do the same. But the decision made by Belfast City Council denied my rights and the rights of every other family in this city who need a home.”

Marissa McMahon is an organiser with Participation and the Practice of Rights, supporting homeless families to campaign for housing rights;

She said: “Belfast City Council have made a decision to sideline housing rights at Mackie’s but there are many thousands of families in housing need who just can’t accept that decision - not just those living in the packed homeless hostels around the Mackies site, but those struggling with mortgages, rent and the shocking rise in the cost of living."

"With the help of the north and west Belfast community, we have raised over £9000 to secure the services of legal and planning experts to develop an inclusive master plan for Mackie’s. We can have the best of both worlds – top class sustainable housing and a green way but time is running out for decisive action as Stormont collapses again. We don’t need to wait for the outcome of a court case for the Minister to do the right thing.”

Mr Nicholas Quinn, Solicitor for the applicant, said that “the decision of the High Court today to grant leave for a full Judicial Review against Belfast City Council represents an important milestone in the the legal process to attempt to overturn the grant of planning permission in respect of the Mackies site.”

He emphasised “the well documented housing crisis in greater Belfast and, in that context, the significant decision to use public land for a park, rather than as a means to alleviate some of the chronic housing stress experienced in Belfast.”

The full case will be heard in June 2022.