Northern Ireland (Appropriation)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23 July 1979.

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Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson , Belfast East 12:00, 23 July 1979

Other hon. Members have made it clear already that the complaint is against the system at present operating, under which the staff have to carry out their orders. It is the system that is wrong, and certainly not the Northern Ireland work force.

No doubt the subject of housing maintenance will be raised on another occasion, but I hope that the Minister will attempt to make time available so that the in-depth inquiry into the Housing Executive that this House and the people of Northern Ireland require urgently may take place.

In the time aavilable to me, I shall deal with some specified topics on the housing front. The first of these concerns a project in my constituency known as RDA24. It is the lower Newtownards Road area of East Belfast. Following a public inquiry, it was decided that over 400 houses would be built and that the scheme would include a shopping complex. The development was originally to be carried out in six phases, but this was changed to four. However, the phases have been taken out of sequence, so that what is now the fourth phase, primarily for family housing, has not yet taken place.

There is concern within the area that it may not take place at all because of the Government's cuts. If it did not, not only would much-needed houses not be provided; the community would be out of balance. The family houses would bring in the young people who would complete the cycle. Can the Minister tell me that my constituents' fears are unfounded? The work has come to a standstill, so there is at least circumstantial evidence for their opinion.

The second project is also a redevelopment area, known as RDA23, in the Memel Street area of Belfast, a small housing area which straddles the River Lagan. The Department of the Environment gave local residents a written undertaking that it would build about 100 dwellings in the area, but there are only 40 in the phase just completed. The Department has now said that, depending on demand, a small final phase of eight dwellings may be constructed. There is no doubt about the demand for homes in the area. I have had enough inquiries myself to fill another 60 dwellings. I ask the Minister to consider this matter seriously and restore the faith of these people in his Department.

The third project is the Tower Street area between Short Strand and Temple-more Avenue. This consists largely of blocked-up houses, which are rapidly going into decline. The more blocked-up houses there are, the more people are forced to move out, and the more houses have to be blocked up. The housing action area report for the area has been considered by the Housing Executive and the residents are still awaiting the result, carry out Government policy. It would

The preliminary phase of rehabilitation was promised after the former Minister accepted my invitation to tour the area in the summer of 1978. We were then promised that that phase would start in November of last year. When the Executive failed to meet that undertaking, I wrote to its regional works manager, who said that it was then hoped to start the work in April. The work has yet to start.

Behind the cold facts of those three projects lies much anguish and hardship.

According to the Department's records and its discussion document, one-third of the houses in the inner East Belfast area are unfit for habitation. I hope that the new Administration will pick up the gauntlet thrown down by years of neglect and tackle the problem in a meaningful and realistic way.

It would be a tragedy if cutbacks were made when so much misery is being caused. Savings can be made within the housing service. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said that a close scrutiny of the Housing Executive could result in savings.

The Rowland report, which cost £250,000 to produce, is an indictment of any Department or quango. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) wishes to deal with that report, so I shall not go into detail. However, I am sure that the previous Government could have found a cheaper whitewashing product than the Rowland report to cover up the disasters in the Housing Executive.