This week I was successful in bringing an adjournment debate to the floor of the Northern Ireland Assembly on the need for the refurbishment of Annadale Flats. This is a community that lies on the edge of Belfast city center where generations of families have and continue to live in properties owned by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. Built in the 1950’s many of the flats and the communal areas had not received any major works to bring them up to current standards since their original construction. Instead the Housing Executive has relied on piecemeal repairs that do little to tackle the very poor living conditions experienced by many of their tenants. Working closely with the community I have sought to address this problem taking the then Social Development Minister, Margaret Ritchie around the flats in 2010 when we were successful in securing a kitchen replacement scheme, completed last year.
While this was a welcome improvement to many, very real problems still exist in the flats and communal areas, most notably the poor state of the flat roofs. In the past three years the Housing Executive has spent over £23,000 on repairs to the roves alone, while many residents still endure buckets as permanent features in their homes to catch the many leaks. Communal areas are left unsecured leaving residents, particularly the elderly, in fear of their safety and that of their homes.
While the living conditions in the flats are a major issue it is not the only one the community and its residents face. The young people in the area have had a very rough deal over the years with no dedicated youth facilities for them. While there are services in the wider Ballynafeigh community, young people from Annadale do not feel confident to leave their community to access them. This has left a gap in services and the young people worse off.
Contrast the poor commitment this community has received from statutory agencies with the positive work going on on the ground by their dedicated community worker and the local residents association. This group of committed individuals has made a real difference with very little financial commitment from outside agencies. Volunteers have willingly given up their time to engage the whole community from the youngest children to the more senior members regardless of their ethnicity or religious background. From projects that aim to tackle social exclusion to training and employment for all ages the whole area has been invigorated.
I believe it is essential that statutory agencies work with this community to improve the physical environment and service provision in the flats and that is why I asked for the adjournment debate and am meeting with the Chief Executive of the Education and Library board this week.
While I welcome the Social Development Minister’s plan to implement a roof replacement scheme this financial year I am concerned that in an answer to a question I had asked him he stated that this was subject to the availability of funding. I am concerned that lack of funding will again be used as an excuse for much needed work not to be carried out on these flats to bring them up to basic living conditions. This cannot be allowed to happen and the Housing Executive and other government agencies must show their commitment to this vibrant community so close to Belfast City Center.