Friday, 4 April 2014

Northern Ireland Housing Executive tower blocks

Cuchulainn House, New Lodge
Recently the North Belfast News (22 March) published an erroneous story claiming that the Northern Ireland Housing Executive had started work on retrofitting all seven tower blocks in the New Lodge area.    The story was entitled 'Towers campaigners in seventh heaven' and in it Liam Wiggins from the New Lodge Housing Forum even claimed that the flats would be fitted with triple glazing!
Subsequently I posted on this blog that the report was erroneous and now the Housing Executive has written the following rebuttal which appears in the latest issue of the newspaper.
Housing Executive clarify Seven Towers investment
I refer to the article 'Towers campaigners in seventh heaven' which appeared in the North Belfast News on 22 March 2014 and would like to clarify a number of issues.
Firstly the article stated that triple glazed windows would be installed as part of the scheme at Cuchulainn House.  It is actually double glazed windows that are to be installed and it would be important that this is noted to avoid any misunderstanding.
The article also alludes to the fact that all seven towers will benefit from improvements, however, as stated in our news release the work at Cuchulainn House will be fully evaluated before work is undertaken to any of the other multi-storey flats owned by the Housing Executive in Belfast - see extract below: 'Following the completion of the pilot scheme at Cuchulainn House a full evaluation will be carried out.  If successful it is the Housing Executive's intention to roll out similar improvements, where practical, to the other 3 multi-storey blocks it owns in Belfast over the coming years.'
Malachy McKinney
North Belfast Area Manager
Parkdale House, Dunmurry
On Wednesday I visited Parkdale House, a tower block at Dunmurry, at the invitation of Jonathan Craig MLA, who was accompanied during the visit by several DUP councillors.  We went to see the flat where the chairperson of the residents' association lives and I was appalled by the extent of the mould that was evident on the inside of the external walls.  This is unhealthy and unacceptable!
Two years ago I visited Parkdale and subsequently some work was done on the block.  This included health and safety work on the lifts, the fitting of fire doors and the installation of a new heating system.  However there is something seriously wrong when flats are affected by such a growth of mould.  I have seen mould in other Housing Executive properties but this is the worst I have ever seen.  A new window scheme is also programmed but that will not address the mould problem.
Several residents who have lived there for many years told me that the problem arises from the failure of an old mechanical ventilation system.  They said that some years ago the system broke down and had been switched off.  This view was supported by Jonathan and the councillors.
They also expressed disappointment that such a situation has prevailed for so long.  When Margaret Ritchie was minister for social development she was invited out to the flats by Edwin Poots and Jonathan Craig and a lot of promises were made but it seems that they were not delivered on.  Money was supposed to have been set aside for necessary work but it seems to have been diverted elsewhere.  Why that happened and where the money was diverted to are questions that require to be answered and the residents deserve answers.
New build social housing is important but it is also important to maintain the quality of our older stock.  When I came into the Department for Social Development I highlighted that issue and so the Housing Executive undertook the task of installing double glazing in all their properties which were single glazed.  I also raised the issue of the 5,000 properties which are 'single skin' and have no cavity wall insulation.  As a result a pilot scheme is now underway in Springfarm in Antrim and this will identity the best method for retrofitting these homes.
The Housing Executive is now looking at its stock of tower blocks across Northern Ireland and I welcome that.  There are seven tower blocks in the New Lodge area, as mentioned above, and there are also seven tower blocks at Dunmurry, but there are also two tower blocks in Mount Vernon, and four in Rathcoole in Newtownabbey, as well as tower blocks in other places such as Clarawood and Larne.  It is important that all blocks are surveyed and all necessary work identified.

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