"We implore Councillors to reject this plan and support the alternative."

An open letter to Belfast City Council on behalf of the Take Back the City Coalition Chloë Trew  |  Fri Jun 10 2022
"We implore Councillors to reject this plan and support the alternative."

Dear Councillors,

On behalf of the Take Back The City coalition we respectfully request that you take immediate steps to safeguard human rights and accountable governance.

On 14th June officials will advise councillors on the planning committee to approve a planning application for a Greenway on the Mackies site (LA04/2020/1959/F) which was published just 3 working days before it is to be voted upon. It is an attempt to rush through a previous plan which was quashed by the court following a judicial review led by a family in housing need - one of thousands in Belfast who will be watching the vote on the 14th of June and wondering in whose interest elected representatives are acting.

This plan is from a bygone era, developed in dialogue with select ‘community stakeholders’ under the promise of time-bound European Peace IV funds. It will embed sectarian division into the future of Belfast for generations and sterilise the site against any potential housing development.

Mackies is a quarter of the size of Belfast City Centre with massive potential for the surrounding communities in north and west Belfast. The site is owned by the Department for Communities, whose Minister Deirdre Hargey MLA has promised 100,000 homes over fifteen years. Alliance, Greens, PBP, Sinn Féin, SDLP  - all have stood side by side with homeless families in support of homes on the Mackies site. We implore them to do the same on June 14th.

The current zoning of land at Mackies is protected from any development that is not employment by Planning Policy Statement 4 policy PED 7. Any decisions regarding the use of zoned employment land for non-employment use can only be taken through Stage 2 (Local Policies Plan) of the Local Development Plan (LDP). Taking a decision now on rezoning of land at Mackies to parkland would be premature.

It is not rational policy-making. It is not in the interest of 2,854 homeless families in west Belfast.

We also draw Councillors’ attention to new information published by the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) -  the same body which quashed Belfast City Council’s previous development plan. The PAC report has found that there is a shortfall of nearly 4,500 housing units compared to the Council’s housing growth target of 31,660. The PAC report further notes that the 23,550 ‘affordable’ housing units required by the LDP are largely not provided for within the overall growth figure of 31,660 dwellings. Mackies has 25 acres of publicly owned land available to address this shortfall in housing.

In short, the decision to approve a Greenway on Mackies’ will not only be premature, but will also stymie the Council’s own Local Development Plan targets on housing growth and affordable housing. It is not rational policy-making. It is not in the interest of 2,854 homeless families in west Belfast.

There is an alternative which can deliver on the promise of the Good Friday Agreement, breathe life into the equality and human rights commitments of our fragile peace process, deliver on climate objectives and help restore the people of Belfast’s faith in government.  For the last 3 years the Take Back the City coalition have been facilitating the development of a community-led vision for Mackies. This has culminated in an open design competition which has already received submissions from 15 architects from 4 continents who will present design solutions for Mackies during the City of the Future events on the 10th and 11th August 2022 as part of Féile an Phobail. These plans can include Greenway options AND affordable, sustainable housing which is fit for the future.

The current plan is short term, sectarian and unsustainable. We implore you to reject it and support the alternative.

Warm regards,

Marissa McMahon, PPR
On behalf of the Take Back The City coalition