Turning away from Brexit to the home front, congrats to the Guardian for promoting a theme developed there by Professor Paddy Gray, an academic on the Built Environment, an austere title for a school of research which hosts a great deal of imaginative and practical work on developing society.
Gray argues that the slow and careful task of bring down peace walls requires a change in favour of greater incentives for voluntary mixed development. In some places, this is a next step. It is unlikely to apply anytime soon to the latest example of progress, the lowering of the peace wall on the Crumlin Road at Ardoyne in August, 100 metres across the street from the now removed Camp Twaddell. But a few years from now you never know. Not so long ago at the height of the Troubles, the Ardoyne shops had mixed ownership and patronage.
But the programme will be frustrated unless it’s accompanied by a major programme of home building, allowing the Housing Executive or its successors to borrow against their considerable assets. This is hardly an unfamiliar agenda. But it’s a vital one that so far has taken a back seat to our obsessions with the latest political squabbles. What is the Stormont Executive doing about it? The Housing Executive’s abolition was announced three years ago but it still survives. What is its future and that of the programmes it administers?
The Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE), which owned the peace wall demolished in August, as well as 20 other peace walls, was instrumental in brokering the deal with local communities.
In 2013, the Northern Ireland assembly pledged that it would remove all peace walls within 10 years. This is ambitious, but the first example of a wall being demolished will hopefully lead to more of these physical barriers being removed, with housing organisations continuing to play a big role.
But ( the Housing Executive) stopped building new social housing in 2002, with housing associations taking on this task, and it faces major problems. According to Savills, existing NIHE stock needs investment of £7bn over the next 30 years and nearly half its stock needs immediate attention. But there is still reluctance to change to status of the NIHE to enable it to borrow against its considerable assets.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London