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Text: Martin Melaugh ... Page Design: Fionnuala McKenna

Majority Minority Review 3
Housing and Religion in Northern Ireland

by Martin Melaugh

Section 4: Housing in the 1970's


The legacy of the housing problems illustrated in the previous Sections was addressed by Governments during the 1970s, before and after the introduction of direct rule. The main response was the setting up of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. The first part of this section is devoted to considering the particular problems imposed by the nature of Northern Ireland society and the civil unrest. The various measures involved in the programme undertaken by the Housing Executive are also briefly considered. The results of the first two House Condition Surveys undertaken by the Executive provide information on the physical condition of dwellings in the region that complements the data considered earlier from the 1971 Census. One of the most controversial housing developments by the Housing Executive was that at Poleglass intended to ease the acute housing shortage in Catholic West Belfast. The background to this is briefly assessed as it provides an example of the processes and problems encountered when housing is regarded as a partisan matter.


As a result of the political agitation during the 1960s and early 1970s a number of reforms were introduced. One of the key policy issues was that of public sector housing. The watershed for policy on housing was the setting up of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE). It has been said by a number of people that the Housing Executive came about as a direct result of the violence: "...the violence can be said to have been an important factor in many initiatives in housing policy, of which the decision in 1969 to establish the Northern Ireland Housing Executive was the most radical" (Kennedy and Birrell 1978). The idea of a central housing authority for the whole of Northern Ireland had a number of attractions. It was anticipated that it would be able to benefit from economies of scale in areas such as housing management, physical resources and staffing. The British government also hoped that other benefits, for example a reduction in the civil unrest, would be achieved in addition to the improvement in the quality of life gained through improved housing. One of the important considerations was that there would be an end to political interference in housing matters: "...the NIHE was established with the objective of insulating the housing function from local political pressures." (Singleton 1986 p5).

Many commentators saw the setting up of the NIHE as the only practical solution to an appalling housing problem. In his review of the evidence of the housing record of the various authorities in 1970 McBrien (1970) came to the conclusion that: "in a word, we need housing in a hurry, and only a central authority can do the job." (p7). However, when the announcement was made there were many who were unhappy with the idea of the central authority. Many in the Unionist community were particularly aggrieved at the fact that the NIHE had come about as "a direct result of pressure from the Westminster Government." (Murie et al. 1972 p6). Local Unionist councillors were also upset at the loss of one of their most cherished powers.

The Housing Executive Act (Northern Ireland) 1971 set out the functions of the new Executive and also provided for the transfer of housing from existing authorities. The Executive was given powers that allowed it to address housing issues outside the public sector. In this respect the NIHE was to become a more comprehensive housing agency than any that existed in Britain. On the 4th October 1971 the Northern Ireland Housing Trust became the first housing agency to be transferred to the Executive; this was followed at periods by the various councils during 1972. The final transfers were those of the Development Commissions which took place between 4 December 1972 and the 1 July 1973. In addition to inheriting the housing stock of the former agencies the NIHE also took charge of many of those who had been working in housing administration. This was to cause its own range of particular responsibilities:

Staffing, appointment, Promotion, and personnel matters raised many difficult questions .... The Act establishing the Executive had conferred upon all those previously working for more than 50 per cent of their time in the housing field the right of transfer to the Executive, ... yet some of the local authority employees whom the Executive was thus bound to take on were the very people who had been administering the loaded and discriminatory housing Practices - or those believed to be so - which the Executive had been set up to prevent .... it remained very necessary to guard against any repetition of the bigoted practices of the past, particularly in the fields of allocations, and of staff appointments. (Brett 1986 P44).

The NIHE was established at the most intense period of civil unrest. it was immediately faced by a number of daunting housing, and housing-related, problems. A number of these housing problems were interconnected. The civil unrest that began in 1969 was to lead to periods of intimidation and subsequent population movement from what had been mixed housing areas. This in turn increased the level of segregation in housing in Northern Ireland, itself the cause of additional problems. The population movements exacerbated the very severe housing shortages in particular areas and people turned to squatting in any available dwellings. These and other problems were to hamper the progress towards carrying out the housing programme the Housing Executive had been set. As these issues were caused by divisions between the Catholic and Protestant community, and because of the important impact they were to have on housing, they are briefly considered in this section.

Intimidation and population movement

The summers of 1969 and 1971 saw a huge movement of population in a number of areas of Northern Ireland but particularly in Belfast (Darby and Morris 1974). As the civil unrest continued many families were forced to move, because of intimidation, out of mixed areas. The scale of the enforced movements was large: "Our estimate of the total ... in the Belfast area between August 1969 and February 1973 is between 8,000 families (minimum) and approximately 15,000 families (maximum)....roughly between 6.6% and 11.8% of the population of the Belfast Urban area." (Darby and Morris 1974 Summary page c).

Estimates of the number from each community who were involved in enforced movements were obviously difficult to make but from the data available it appeared that: "in 1969 83% of the total moves were Catholic, compared with an estimated figure of 'only' 60% in 1971." (Hadden 1971 p9). The patterns of movements in the two periods were also different. Whereas the interface -areas along the 'peace lines' were the focus of movements in 1969, by 1971 mixed estates removed from these traditional areas of friction became affected. In general Protestants tended to disperse over a wide area of Belfast and beyond, whereas Catholics tended to concentrate in particular areas thus adding greatly to problems of overcrowding and increased waiting lists. The original temporary barricades erected by local inhabitants were recognised first by the British Army which added barbed-wire fencing and then by the Department of the Environment which replaced the fencing with purpose built 'peace line' walls. These manifestations of division remain an important consideration for the Housing Executive.


The divisions between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland manifest themselves in a number of ways. One of the most important of these is the geographical segregation of the two main religious groups. In addition to being considered an outcome of the religious divisions in the society some would argue that residential segregation is one of the main elements which sustains division. Those who hold this view would argue that segregation is intrinsically a bad thing. Others might argue that segregation has some beneficial effects, for example the preservation of culture and heritage. Regardless of how it is viewed, residential segregation has had a number of important social and political consequences. One of these is the ability of to identify the religious and broad political affiliation of people by a knowledge of where they live. In the past this information (in addition to other cues as to religion such as school attended) has been used on occasion to discriminate in the fields of employment and housing. The following is a brief review of material on the topic of segregation[1].

Northern Ireland has been a religiously segregated society since the plantations in the 17th century. The extent of geographical separation has not been constant but has varied with the incidence of political and civil unrest. During more settled periods the natural process of population movement within the region has produced areas where mixing resulted in sizable minorities of one community or the other. However these mixed areas, particularly those which were working class or close to demarcation lines, have proved to be very unstable during times of unrest. The ones which have survived have tended to be middle class areas:

... the mixed areas are particularly vulnerable to destabilisation due to the impact of ethnic conflict outbursts from time to time, due to a dynamic produced by relative shifts in group sizes and due to changes in housing provision and access to such housing. Vulnerability also appears to be generated by differences in ethnic tolerance levels between the two groups - Catholics being more accepting of numerical minority status in a neighbourhood than Protestants. These destabilising factors appear to have had their greatest impact in the period since 1969. (Boal 1982 p274).

Belfast has provided a number of clear examples of the mixing and segregation process. Boal (1982) points to some evidence that Belfast may have been a residentially segregated city from its early beginnings. There was, nevertheless, a sharp deterioration in the relations between Catholics and Protestants during the 19th century. This is explained in terms of the rapid increase of Catholic numbers and also the perceived competition for employment. Periods of inter-community conflict resulted in greater segregation. By 191 1 9 41 per cent of Catholics and 62 per cent of Protestants were living in segregated areas (Boal 1982 p253). Segregation increased (although not consistently) between 1911 and 1969, and by 1972 it was even greater.

Assimilation is inversely related to the degree of segregation, so it is likely that there has been no progress towards assimilation during this time. Some commentators have used evidence from the 1991 Census to argue that the process of segregation has continued throughout Northern Ireland during the present period of civil unrest. It has been suggested that: "About half of the province's 1.5 million population live in areas more than 90 per cent Protestant or more than 90 per cent Catholic." (McKittrick 1993 p5). This information is based on ward level data which may not however give a true reflection of the extent of segregation. The level of segregation or mixing observed is highly dependent on the geographical boundaries chosen. An area which appears mixed may contain sub-areas of segregated housing. It should also be noted that ward boundaries may be subject to change over time. These changes are made in such a manner as to take account of factors such as election administration practicalities as well as local community identity. Some of the apparent increase in segregation observed at ward level may simply be due to boundary changes.

Segregation in housing is likely to have a number of important implications in terms of differences in the characteristics of dwellings for the two communities. It is clear that decisions about where to build housing in a segregated society may have the effect of labelling those dwellings as being the property of one particular community, and thereby predetermining the allocation of that housing as between the two communities. For reasons discussed below this has been more of a problem in the past in public sector new build than private sector development. Given the nature of segregation there was an opportunity for those deciding on the physical attributes of dwellings to adopt different specifications in different areas and thus for different religious groups.

The Policy Studies Institute report on housing prepared for SACHR (to be considered in Section Eight) makes the point that segregation in public sector housing is more pronounced that in other housing sectors. This may have to do with an absence of a clear policy in this matter. While there have been a few attempts in the past to create new mixed estates these proved to be either unattractive to one of the communities or were unsustainable as mixed areas. Twinbrook is one example of a failed attempt to create a new mixed area and Manor Street is another more recent case where integrated housing could not be maintained even in a previously mixed area. The NIHE have taken a pragmatic approach to the question of residential segregation:

The Executive does not believe that forced integration is any more desirable than a policy of deliberate segregation. We can only hope that the provision of an attractive mixture of housing and a change of the socio-political as well as the physical environment may ease the problem of polarisation by encouraging and enabling families who wish to live in integrated communities to do so. (NIHE 1973 p18).

This hope was to prove forlorn. Most of the NIHE tenants are working class, the very people who have been most directly affected by the civil unrest. Until fairly recently the NIHE gave its tenants the right to specify what type of area they wish to live in, Protestant, Catholic, or Mixed. It is not surprising that they have chosen to live in those areas where they feel less threatened.

As mentioned above a number of people would argue that segregation is of itself an undesirable state for any society. It may foster suspicion and fear of the 'other' community. Even assuming that residential mixing is desirable there appears to be no clear way of reducing segregation in housing. Boal (1982) states:

The notion that residential segregation is in itself a bad thing has meant that western urban society has been particularly inept at handling it in a positive way. In Belfast, which has to take the massive strains of the urban encapsulation of a national conflict, where perhaps no more than about 10% of households reside in stably mixed residential areas, a positive approach to segregation is fundamental At the same time the relatively limited stable mixing that does exist should be handled with the greatest of care. (Boal 1982 p277).

Others see some encouragement that geographical segregation has never been as strong as in other spheres of life, in particular it is not:

... as intense as the religious segregation in the schools, and rarely is it as strong as the religious cleavage in voting behaviour. Moreover, there are very many towns in Northern Ireland whose housing is, from the point of view of religious composition, very mixed, and this is a statement that could certainly not be applied to the spheres of politics and education. (Poole 1982 p305).

Despite some recent work (Glendinning 1993) there would appear to be a lack of research on integrated housing estates. There is a need for information on why some estates are able to resist the pressures that lead others to become segregated.

The problem of squatting and the rent strike

A related problem to that of intimidation was the issue of squatting. Initially there was some sympathy for squatters who were forced to adopt extreme measures having been driven from their homes by intimidation. However, the scale of the problem was to become very large and the paramilitaries of both sides became involved, with the effect that this sympathy was greatly reduced

In 1968 squatting was used in Caledon to draw attention to unfair housing allocations. In 1972 squatting is an inter-denominational, non party political, province-wide means of undermining attempts at social justice and allocating homes according to greed rather than need. (Editorial 1972 p5).

The scale of the problem was difficult to estimate but even by 1974 estimates put the figure for the number of squatting families at approximately 5,500 (Editorial 1974 p6).

The other major problem faced by the NIHE during the early 1970s came about as a result of protest by the Catholic community against the introduction of internment. As part of a campaign of civil disobedience a rent and rates strike was introduced across the province. At the height of the strike some 25,000 households were estimated to be withholding payment. The government introduced a number of measures to recover the money owned (Editorial 1971 p4) but the outstanding arrears from this period were to last for many years. In addition to the eventual difficulties that some households faced when arrears were deducted from source, the Housing Executive found itself under an unanticipated financial burden and had to change its policy on financing (Brett 1986 p47).


The problems of a shortage of housing and the poor physical condition of a substantial proportion of the existing stock required a committed programme of action by the new Housing Executive. Its initial programme was, to a large extent, determined by the plans laid down by its predecessors. In April 1973 the NIHE introduced a single standard housing selection scheme for allocations, based on need, for all public sector property. In the same year it also began the process of standardising the system for the setting of rents. Due to previous disparities in policy it took many years to achieve a rationalisation of public rents. Despite this, both these policies had the effect of instilling confidence in the fairness of the new organisation. The Executive also found that redevelopment plans were already in place in urban areas such Belfast. Many unfit dwellings were closed by statutory order in preparation for demolition. 'Green field' developments were also an important part of the overall strategy. One of the disadvantages of redevelopment was the break-up of communities. Indeed even before the Executive took over the first of its stock from the Housing Trust there were those warning of the effects of the process (Overy 1971 p6). By the mid-1970s there was much criticism both of the effect on particular communities and the lack of any participation in the planning process (Wiener 1978).

The 1974 House Condition Survey, to be considered below, demonstrated the very poor state of housing in Northern Ireland, particularly in Comparison with England and Wales. The Labour government of the day increased expenditure on rousing as a result of this and other evidence: 'During this period [1974 to 1977], the real value of the spending more than doubled and it's share of total expenditure rose by two-thirds." (Gaffikin and Morrissey 1990 p157). However, facing a sterling crisis in 1976 the Labour government had to adopt ;weeping expenditure cuts to meet International Monetary Fund requirements for financial assistance. The result for Northern Ireland was a cut in expenditure on housing with the deepest cuts coming in 1977-78. The effect of these and other factors can be seen in the decline in the number of houses completed during the late 1970s: see Figure 4.1. One point to be considered later (see Section Six) is that the impact of the changes to the housing programme may is likely to have been different for the two communities. Due to a lack of information based on religion it is only possible to speculate as to the differential impact on Catholic and Protestant households. During the period of increased public sector building Catholic households would have benefited to a greater degree than Protestant households due to the higher levels of need. it is possible therefore that any downturn in the housing programme would represent a greater loss in housing opportunities to those in greatest need, namely the Catholic community. On the other hand if the higher priority schemes, those where need was greatest, were maintained in the housing programme it is likely that the Protestant community would have suffered more in these circumstances.

Figure 4.1 New house building, completions by sector, 1971-1991

(Data for Figure 4.1)

There had already been a shift in emphasis in Britain away from redevelopment towards rehabilitation and the 1976 Housing (Northern Ireland) Order introduced 'Housing Action Areas' to the region. In association with schemes such as the Renovation Grants Scheme, designed to assist landlords and owners in the private sector to improve their property, these initiatives were designed to slow down the rate at which dwellings were becoming unfit. While the emphasis of the various programmes of the NIHE, such as new build and renovation, have varied over time the intention was that they would be complementary.

Other schemes in the overall housing programme included the designation of 'priority estates' which were usually housing areas that were difficult to let, 'homesteading' which represented an attempt to encourage first time buyers who under normal circumstances would not have jointed the owner-occupied sector, and also sales of Housing Executive property to tenants (Singleton 1984). One question raised by the different elements in this housing programme is whether or not they had a differential impact on the two main communities. This question is one which has not been systematically addressed (see Section Six).

Private housing developments which had increased during the 1960s (Figure 1.2) were to continue at a fairly constant rate during the 1970s (Figure 4.1) helping to add to the total housing stock. Housing associations, while small in terms of their contribution to the total stock, have proved ,to be a successful and welcome addition to the range of housing provision available in the region. Schemes such as co-ownership have also been very popular with particular groups. Again it is the impact of each of these on the two communities which is of interest, a point returned to in Section Six.


As will be discussed in Section Eight the NIHE decided, when it first began to operate, not to monitor formally the religion of its tenants. This policy was extended to include all the ad hoc surveys carried out by the Executive's Research Unit[2]. The information contained in the House Condition Surveys so far published, those conducted in 1974, 19797 1984 and 1987, do not therefore contain data on religion. This has proved to be an unfortunate omission for many researchers interested in the topic of housing in Northern Ireland, and it is particularly so for this report.

Nevertheless, the HCSs represent an important source of data on the physical characteristics of the housing stock in Northern Ireland and some assessment of the differences for the two communities needs to be made. Given the nature of the data in the published reports the only approach that can be undertaken is to consider differences in the characteristics of the housing stock in relation to the distribution of Catholics and Protestants in the region. The limitation of this approach is that it can provide no assessment at the individual level. However, when considered in conjunction with other information, for example that in the Census Reports, it is possible to be reasonably confident about the general conclusions. The data extracted for this part of the analysis is contained in Appendix 4.1.

The 1974 and 1979 House Condition Surveys

The 1974 House Condition Survey (NIHE 1974) represented the first comprehensive survey of the housing stock in Northern Ireland by the Housing Executive. Other assessments of housing need and housing condition had been made in the past but none matched the 1974 survey in size or coverage. The survey was conducted by local government Public Health Inspectors who collected information on housing characteristics including level of amenities, and made an assessment of the state of repair of the dwelling. Most importantly the inspectors made a decision on whether or not the dwelling was fit for human habitation using criteria based on the 1956 and 1971 Northern Ireland Housing Acts[3].

The results of the 1974 HCS confirmed clearly what many people were well aware of, that the physical condition of the housing stock was very poor (see Table 4.2). Unfit dwellings accounted for 19.6 per cent of the total stock.

Table 4.2 Key indicators for House Condition Surveys for 1974 and 1979

Unfit dwellings
Dwellings lacking 1 or more basic amenities
Fit dwellings lacking amenities
Dwellings requiring repairs over £1,000*
1974 ..%
1979 ..%

* At 1973 prices
Source: NIHE (1974, 1982)

This rate of one in five households living in dwellings which were unfit for human habitation was approximately three times worse than the estimated 7 per cent unfitness in England. The information from the survey on amenity provision confirmed the data from the 1971 Census, with approximately one in four dwellings lacking one or more basic amenities. Even among those dwellings which were not statutorily unfit there were often problems with the standard of the dwelling. In 1974 10 per cent of fit dwellings lacked at least one amenity. The survey also uncovered a large problem of disrepair:

35.1 % or 159,740 dwellings require capital expenditure of at least £250 [1974 prices] to restore them to a satisfactory condition. In total 1 7% or 77, 000 dwellings require expenditure of at least £1,000 on repairs. (NIHE 1974 p8).

Overall, 38 per cent of dwellings - a startling proportion - required some form of remedial action due to unfitness or lack of amenities, or because of disrepair.

The other main feature of the results was the uneven distribution of poor housing condition across Northern Ireland. The map in Figure 4.3 shows the distribution of unfit housing across the 26 district council areas. It is clear that unfitness was a particular problem in western and southern areas:

The unfitness rate varies considerably from District to District. It is highest in Fermanagh where 41 % of all dwellings are unfit and 57. 1 % of all dwellings were built prior to 19 1 9, and lowest in Castlereagh where 1% of dwellings are unfit and 87% were built after 1944. Within these two extremes there are Districts with disturbingly high unfitness rates. In Newry and Mourne the rate is 27%, in Belfast 24%, Coleraine 16%, Ballymoney 27%, Omagh 34% and in Craigavon 20%. Districts with lower unfitness rates are North Down 6%, Londonderry 13%, and Antrim 11 %. (NIHE 1974 p7).

A comparison of the distribution of unfit dwellings (Figure 4.3) and the population of Catholics (Figure 3.1) in each district council area does give the impression of higher rates of unfitness in those areas with a high Catholic population. Figure 4.4 is a plot of the level of unfitness by the percentage of Catholics in each of the 26 district council areas. It demonstrates a strong association between the proportion of Catholics and the level of unfit housing. While it is true to say that this assessment does not provide direct evidence of higher rates of unfitness in individual Catholic dwellings, when looked at in association with other information it is highly probable that this was indeed the case.

Figure 4.4 Percentage of dwellings unfit (1974) by percentage of Catholics (1971), district council areas New house building, completions by sector, 1971-1991

The report of the 1974 HCS give a description of the typical unfit dwelling stating that it was: "...a terraced or detached house built prior to 1919, is owner occupied or privately tenanted, lacks at least four amenities ... is in a state of high disrepair, and has a net annual valuation less than £14." (NIHE 1974 p8). Each of the HCSs conducted by the Housing Executive have demonstrated the close association between amenity provision and unfitness. The 1971 Census data, considered in Section Three, gave clear evidence that Catholic households were significantly less likely to have exclusive use of a fixed bath, an inside toilet, or hot water, than Protestant households. Figure 4.5 shows the percentage of dwellings lacking at least one amenity, according to the 1974 HCS, and the percentage of Catholics in each of the 26 district councils. As with unfitness there is a strong correlation between those areas with large Catholic populations and the provision of amenities in dwellings.

Figure 4.5 Percentage of dwellings lacking at least one amenity (1974) by percentage of Catholics (1971), district council areas

All the indirect evidence would therefore point to a situation where, in general, Catholic households were more likely to be living in dwellings requiring remedial action. It should be remembered of course that the greatest division in housing condition was between the eastern and western areas. It should also be borne in mind that certain predominantly Protestant areas, for example some of the inner city wards in Belfast, would have suffered from high rates of unfitness.

The 1979 House Condition Survey

The 1979 HCS (NIHE 1982) provided the opportunity to judge the impact of the policies employed by the NIHE during the previous five years. Table 4.2 shows that there had been a decline in both the number of unfit houses and also the number of dwellings which lacked amenities. However on the question of disrepair there had been no such improvement during the five year period. The situation in fact had substantially worsened during the period. However, as mentioned above, the 1976 Housing (Northern Ireland) Order had introduced the concept of Housing Action Areas which were to be the focus of a rehabilitation programme designed to slow down the rate at which the housing stock was becoming unfit.

One question arises as to the geographical distribution of the improvement in housing condition. The final report notes that: "...the largest reductions in unfitness were recorded ... forBelfast, Craigavon, Armagh and Omagh Districts. The net decline of 12,680 unfit dwellings in Belfast was the largest in absolute terms and represented over 50 per cent of the total reduction in unfit dwellings in Northern Ireland." (NIHE 1982 p21). This level of reduction in Belfast would have been expected given the early concentration of Housing Executive effort on redevelopment.

An examination of the association between the district council area and the level of unfit housing (see Figure 4.6) showed that the pattern of higher rates of unfitness in Catholic areas remained, although the association was not as strong as in 1974. The same could be said of amenity provision (see Figure 4.7). Although the improvements in amenity provision are clear from the diagram it is also evident that there remained an association with the proportion of Catholics in each district council area.

Figure 4.6
Percentage of dwellings unfit (1979) by
percentage of Catholics (1981) district council areas
Figure 4.7
Percentage of dwellings lacking at least one amenity (1979) by percentage of Catholics (1981), district council areas


One problem that was to face the NIHE from the beginning of the 1970s was the large demand for housing by the Catholic population of West Belfast. There had been a shortage of housing in this area for a number of years. During the late 1950s and early 1960s attempts to find a solution involved plans to move part of the population out of the immediate area. There was, however, resistance to this strategy by a number of groups, including the Catholic Church, which did not want to see the break-up of the community. The solution at that time was to build high density, medium to high rise, flats and maisonettes. This policy was implemented by the Housing Trust which pioneered industrialised non-traditional building methods in this and other areas of Northern Ireland. This particular type of building method was soon to cause as many problems as it solved, but additional factors were to increase the pressure for housing in West Belfast.

The large population movements in 1969 and 1971, described above, had the effect of worsening the housing shortage in West Belfast. Housing shortage was a major problem in the area and one which was to tax the Housing Executive for a number of years. Against this background the NIHE had to find sites to build housing to accommodate the large number of Catholics on the waiting list. Although alternative solutions were considered, it was quickly decided that the only practical option was to build on a new site on the periphery of Belfast (Brett 1986). The site chosen was Poleglass and the whole issue was to prove controversial and highly divisive.

It is worth including a short review of this affair as it represents one of the best documented episodes of the planning of a new housing estate where representatives of the two communities were split as to the acceptability of the entire programme. It also ties into the earlier discussions of segregation, and overcrowding among the Catholic community, and the problems of finding 'green field' sites to relieve the pressure in Belfast.

The Poleglass Affair

In 1973 at the time of the original proposal, there had been large-scale movements of households as people fled to 'safer' areas, increasing the extent of segregation in Belfast. The site at Poleglass had the initial disadvantage of breaching the Belfast Stop Line, the planned urbanisation boundary. The plans for Poleglass, published in 1974, envisaged a development of up to 4,000 dwellings.

While those in the Catholic community welcomed the proposal, for many Protestants the scheme was viewed as an incursion into the 'Protestant territory' around the Lisburn area.

Lisburn Borough Council, with a Unionist majority, took a lead in the opposition to the scheme. By 1976 the projected size of the development was reduced to 2,000 dwellings. For some in the Catholic community this decision had little to do more to do with estimates of need, and more to do with pressure brought to bear on the then Labour Government which had no overall majority at Westminster.

There were a number of people who raised other considerations beyond the narrow territorial claims of various groups. These additional issues had to do with environmental considerations, the social effects of a large housing estate on the periphery of the greater Belfast urban area, and the consequences for existing mixed areas close to the proposed site (Singleton 1978). Due to the number of objections to the proposal, a public inquiry was held in October and November 1976 by the Northern Ireland Planning Appeals Commission(Northern Ireland Planning Appeals Commission 1977). In January 1978, after considerable delay, it was announced that the housing scheme at Poleglass would proceed. Opposition to the plan continued with a number of protest marches and lobbying by Union ist MPs and councillors.

In 1979, with the change to a Conservative administration in Westminster, the Lisburn Borough Council again lobbied for a change in the scheme. In August of that year it was announced that the scheme would proceed. However, Lisburn Borough Council blocked the planning applications on three occasions and in October 1979 the Minister granted permission bypassing the normal consultation procedures (Singleton 1982).

Building of the first phase of the development commenced in February 1980, but even then Lisburn Borough Council continued to oppose the scheme by stating that it would not provide a refuse collection service. It later accepted its statutory duty and agreed to provide the service. The first tenants moved into the estate at the end of 1980. This represented a considerable delay since the plans for the development were first published in 1974. Certainly if the development had not been controversial it would have been started and completed in a much shorter time. However it should also be noted that at a time of severe cutbacks in public housing provision in Britain the construction of the other phases at Poleglass continued.

By providing approximately 2,000 public sector houses the development at Poleglass undoubtedly reduced the waiting list and the problems of overcrowding which this reflected. By providing a better standard of housing (NIHE dwellings being built to Parker Morris standards) it helped to alleviate some of the problems associated with unfit and overcrowded conditions. The development could, nevertheless, be said to have a number of disadvantages. It represented further segregation of the two communities, even though almost all of those who moved to Poleglass would have come from existing segregated housing. For proponents of integration all new housing developments which end up being allocated exclusively to one of the communities may be viewed as a lost opportunity.

It could also be said that the planning and building of the development was divisive if, as Singleton (1982) points out, the newspaper coverage of the process is an accurate reflection of the feelings of the Catholic and Protestant communities. The loss of 'Protestant territory' caused resentment in the Protestant community, and its effect on community relations and the future potential for integrated housing is difficult to assess. There were also aspects of the planning process which caused resentment in the Catholic community, particularly the decision to reduce the size of the development by half. This decision was viewed as purely political and not influenced by any assessment of need. The outcome was that neither side was happy with the arrangements.

The Poleglass proposal was seen by Protestants as invasion of their territory. Therefore any positive functions which such an area of ethnic residential segregation can claim have to be set against the polarising reactions generated during the process of its establishment and the possible removal of the middle ground in the surrounding area. (Singleton 1982 p?)

While the Poleglass development helped ease housing shortages in the inner city area of Catholic West Belfast the problem did not entirely appear. The demolition of the Divis Flats complex and its replacement with high density traditionally built housing has meant a net loss of dwellings in the area. At a time when the Protestant population has been moving out of Belfast to the surrounding areas and as a result freeing housing and land in the inner city area, the Housing Executive is faced with the problem of a k of suitable land in 'Catholic' areas. A solution carving development in a 'green field' site may not be an available option in the 1990s.


l. This section includes only a brief discussion of tree. topic of segregation because it is intended to produce a Majority Minority report on the topic in the near future.

2. The NIHE changed its policy in 1990 and decided then to include a question on religion on .all its ad hoc survey work. The Executive has also introduced a new computer system which will allow comprehensive monitoring of religion of its tenants. This should allow the NIHE to judge service by religion on aspects of work such as maintenance, allocations, transfers and use sales.

3. The fitness criteria covered nine items, repair, ability, freedom from damp, internal arrangement, natural light, ventilation, water supply, drainage and sanitation, and facilities for the preparation and cooking of food. The inspector had to make an assessment on the basis of these nine 'matters' as to whether the dwelling was so defective as to make it unsuitable for occupation. The fitness standard therefore included some aspects of amenity provision. However, it did not include the three mains services of water, electricity and sewerage.

Data for Figure 4.1 New house building, completions by sector, 1971-1991

Housing Associations

Source: DOEI NI (1981, 1992)

Figure 4.3 Percentage of unfit dwellings based on 1974 House Conditions Survey, district council areas

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