A Reverse Robin Hood
The Market area of Belfast abuts the city centre.
As that same city centre enjoys a splendid renaissance, you might expect, therefore, the community of the Market to enjoy similar uplift.
Sadly, recent times have seen planning decisions which hark back to the bad old days when the architects of Belfast’s Waterfront Hall closed tunnels linking the Market to the concert venue with reinforced concrete.
An unabashed engineer later told me of that nineties decision, “we had to make sure they didn’t come over from the Market to steal our cars”.
Today, the Market community is engaged in a rearguard legal action to prevent the contentious construction of a 14-storey office building in a residential street in the area.
But that development is just one jaw of a vise squeezing the Market community.
For now the City Council plans to take lands zoned for housing on the other side of the Market, on the Gasworks site, to meet the demands of one of the biggest corporations in the world, Carlson Hotels Inc which owns the Radisson Blu hotel chain.
The demand for social housing in the Market area is severe. In fact, homeless and housing stress statistics in the area are so pressing that the Housing Executive, the state agency responsible for meeting housing need, has protested the Council plan.
We have all heard of Robin Hood who stole from the rich to give to the poor. In taking this land zoned for homes for local people to give to a travel company giant which boasts over 1400 hotels across the globe, Belfast City Council is turning that approach on its head.Here we have a Reverse Robin Hood: taking from the poor to give to the rich.
Of course, as I have written today to Carlson Hotels Inc CEO Federico González Tejera, I join local people in wanting to see Radisson Blu expand its presence in Belfast.
But the way to do that is for local people to be given clarity over the location and number of homes planned for other parts of the Gasworks site so that they can agree to this hotel expansion and office development safe in the knowledge that their right to the safety and sanctity of a home is being honoured.
After all, consultation on housing on the Gasworks site started back in 2005. Twelve years is quite long enough, thank you, to be waiting for some progress on that particular process.
Belfast City Council has been deaf to the pleas of residents and is determined to push through this shameful plan. I am optimistic, however, that Carlson Hotels Inc will be more sympathetic to the community on its doorstep. I have, therefore, asked Mr Tejera to be faithful to his company’s credo which includes this exhortation: “Whatever you do, do with integrity.”
If he insists on that principle being observed in this controversy, then justice and prosperity can both be served.