Community Group Triggers Unprecedented Public Review for Vacant Belfast Site

Mackies Belfast master plan by Matthew Lloyd Architects London

The community group Take Back the City has submitted plans to Belfast City Council for a major redevelopment of the long-vacant Mackies site. Their proposals include 750 mixed-tenure homes, employment and community spaces, a city farm, allotments, and sustainable energy. This is the first time a community group without land ownership has submitted such an application in Ireland or the UK.

Human rights campaigners begin Belfast City Council’s public consultation process on plans for thousands of jobs, 750 homes, sustainable energy and a city farm.

Take Back the City has submitted a Proposal of Application Notice (PAN) to Belfast City Council triggering a community consultation process for the Mackies site, off the Springfield Road. This is the first time an application of this nature has been submitted to a Council anywhere in Ireland or the UK by a community group who do not currently own the land for which they are making the proposals.

The site, which has been largely vacant for over 20 years is controlled by multiple owners, including Invest NI, Belfast City Council, Braidwater Homes and The Department for Communities – which has overall responsibility for housing policy. It is situated in an area with some of the highest poverty levels, unemployment rates and homelessness in the City.

Speaking at the launch of the consultation, Marissa Mc Mahon of Take Back the City said: “Last week, on the same day we submitted our plans to Council we met the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Housing, Balakrishnan Rajagopal, to provide evidence of human rights failures in our housing system. We raised concerns that local institutions have ignored previous criticism from various international human rights bodies, with impunity. Homeless families told the Rapporteur about their tragic struggle to put a safe roof over their kids heads. These are stories we hear repeated every week in our housing clinics, which we hold next door to this massive vacant site in our city.

“Our plan is a community response to the decades of failure which has left so many kids without a safe home and so many families struggling to pay the bills. Over 86,000 people are now on the social housing waiting list and local advice groups are at breaking point. Our proposals for the Mackies site will go a long way to addressing the crisis and providing a solution to breathe new life into the area.

“People living in the poorest areas of Belfast have been neglected and ignored throughout the peace process and they deserve better. That’s why we assembled some of the best minds around to develop the Take Back the City master-plan in partnership with the local community. Over 700 people have already written to councillors asking for their support and more do so every week. What we need to see now is the determination and effort shown by homeless families matched by our local decision makers.”

The architect – Matthew Lloyd of Matthew Lloyd Architects London – explained how they have been developing the plans. He said: “We are very excited by this project’s potential, not only for Belfast but also as an exemplar for other communities. This master-plan is the result of long years of community engagement and a ground breaking international design competition. It has been amazing to be part of something so deeply embedded within the local community and families in housing need. Since we won the competition in 2022, we have been refining the plans in meetings, at family fun days and even in community gardens – everyone has been mucking in to make this work.

“The plans now include a varied neighbourhood of 750 mixed-type and tenure homes, to be constructed in several phases, with 18,000 square metres of employment floorspace, 3,000 square metres of community floorspace, 2,000 square metres of local shopping, a city farm, allotments to grow food and low cost, low carbon energy supply. There is ample open public space throughout the design and a footbridge across the Forth River ravine, with direct access into the master-plan from Springfield Road, Woodvale Avenue, West Circular Road and Ballygomartin Road to meet Belfast City Council’s goals to create a sustainable, multicultural and fully integrated city.

“It really does have something for everyone and we are looking forward to engaging further with local authorities and the general public during the upcoming consultation process.”

A Proposal of Application Notice (PAN) was submitted to Belfast City Council on 13 May 2024 and a community consultation engagement event will take place on 10 September 2024 at ForthSpring Inter Community Group, 373/375 Springfield Road, Belfast, at 12.00pm. The general public will be invited to attend and consider the plans in detail, engage with campaigners and the development team and provide feedback on the plans which will be submitted in a full report to Belfast City Council.

Throughout the public consultation period, Take Back the City will be knocking doors in local communities to talk to residents and members of the public can submit their views on the plans at any stage online.

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