Emmet McDonough-Brown is an Alliance Party Councillor for Botanic.
Since my election in 2014, I’ve devoted a fair bit of time and effort to the challenges faced by the Holylands and its community of settled residents. I won’t rehearse the full and inglorious history of how we arrived here but the experiences that residents have endured are just awful.
I consider myself an optimist though (which is why I joined Alliance!) and it has always been my view that the issues are fixable. Here’s my quick-fire set of proposals which, I feel, would improve the area and help restore it to an area of residential character:
1. Reduce the number of Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs)
2. Re-introduce wardens
3. Make those responsible for anti-social behaviour fully accountable
4. Encourage Housing Associations to acquire homes and make them available for family use
5. Enforce bye-laws prohibiting the consumption of alcohol in public places
6. Police the area and implement fixed penalties for urination, disorderly behaviour, breach of the peace, etc.
7. Consider additional legislation to force the closure of pubs and off-sales to maintain public order
8. Support the residential core both financially and technically to re-assert its primacy
9. Use Landlord Registration to drive improvements in the quality of housing stock
10. Require universities and colleges to make on-site accommodation available
11. Invest strategically. Support projects which will build community and cohesion
This is not an exhaustive list and isn’t presented in any particular order. The organisations and agencies which can assist (Belfast City Council, PSNI, QUB/UU/BMet, Housing Executive) have been too flat footed for too long. A step change is urgently needed.
Legislation and policy change doesn’t happen overnight, I accept, but many of the issues relate to day to day decision making by statutory agencies. Police could target enforcement action tomorrow; the Council could support residents with resource tomorrow; and universities could part-fund a warden scheme tomorrow. Why don’t they?
Landlords are often (fairly) singled out not only for contributing to the decline of the area but of extracting profit while doing so. Where is their sense of civic duty; if their tenants cause harm in the community, do they really think they can shirk responsibility? Some of the larger ones seek to actively frustrate efforts to improve the area. That cannot be right.
It’s taken a long time to get this bad and will take time to improve. I’m committed to playing my part. Can everyone else say the same?