A long-awaited project to refurbish more than 50 former Ministry of Defence (MoD) houses in Lisburn and make them available as social and affordable housing could finally be about to get the green light.
The 59 vacant properties at Mountview Drive and Skyline Drive, thought to be worth around £5 million, were transferred by the MoD to the Department for Communities (DfC) last January.
Many of the boarded up houses have been broken into, vandalised and fallen into a state of disrepair, causing serious concerns for people living in neighbouring properties. Indeed, speaking to the Ulster Star in August, one local resident claimed the area looked “like a war zone”.
Over the past 12 months Clanmil Housing Group has been trying to secure the transfer of the homes in order to refurbish them and bring them back into use. However, the transfer has been stalled due to the ongoing political stalemate at Stormont, with the department claiming the decision had to be taken by the Assembly.
However, the DfC has now confirmed that it has received clarification stating that the transfer of the properties can go ahead, subject to certain conditions.
Local DUP representatives, including councillors, MLAs and Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, have been pushing for the transfer process to be progressed. And they have welcomed the DfC’s decision to finally move forward with the hand over of the houses to Clanmil.
Edwin Poots MLA said the “inordinate delay” in the transfer process to date has been expensive in that the department has been paying for rates, insurance, security patrols, removal of oil tanks and securing the houses.
Indeed, the department has confirmed that over the past year it has spent more than £95,500 on “rates, reactive maintenance and security.”
“Many of the houses have been vandalised and the cost of refurbishment has risen significantly as a result. The human cost has been greater with much needed housing being denied to over 50 families by this delay,” Mr Poots said.
Describing the long-running saga as “grossly unfair on the local community”, Councillor Jonathan Craig said the department’s decision to transfer the properties will “hopefully bring to an end the sad debacle.”
“Hopefully this move will bring to an end the incessant anti-social behaviour that has plagued the local community and will see these properties restored to their former state and sold to first time buyers or rented out,” he commented.
His party colleague, Councillor Scott Carson added: “When the current business case is approved, the transfer to Clanmil Housing can take place and the properties can be brought into productive use to meet the housing demands locally.
“It is anticipated that this approval should take weeks to complete.”
Clarifying the DfC’s position, a spokesperson stated: “The Department for Communities can confirm that, subject to achieving business case approval and contract, the former Ministry of Defence houses at Mountview Drive and Skyline Drive can be transferred to Clanmil Housing.
“As stated previously, the department sought advice as to whether it would be possible to effect the transfer of the former MoD properties when the Assembly was not sitting.
“Upon receipt of further clarification the department has been advised that the transfer could take place and the Assembly notified upon its return.”
Welcoming the department’s decision, Clanmil Housing Group said it is “keen to get started” on the refurbishment of the properties.
“We understand that the Department for Communities has submitted a business case to the Department of Finance in relation to the transfer to Clanmil of the properties at Mountview.
“The transfer is subject to approval of this business case,” a spokesperson explained.
“We are ready to award a construction contract and commence the project within this financial year as planned and we are keen to get started on the necessary refurbishment works to bring these properties back into use as much needed social and affordable homes,” she added.