The Department for Communities is forking out £1,200 a month for private security at disused former Ministry of Defence (MoD) properties in Lisburn, it has been revealed.
More than 50 houses in the Mountview Drive area of the city, thought to be worth around £5million, were declared surplus to requirements by the MoD and gifted to the department in January this year.
Clanmil Housing had been hoping to take ownership of the houses, putting forward plans to refurbish them and make them available for social and affordable housing. However, the department says it has been unable to complete the transfer of the properties without the approval of the Assembly.
With no sign of the power sharing institutions at Stormont getting back up and running any time soon, Clanmil’s plans for the properties have been put on hold.
Residents in neighbouring properties have complained that the houses are being allowed to fall into disrepair. Gardens are overgrown, many are boarded up and some have been broken into and vandalised.
Local residents have claimed the dilapidated houses make the area look “like a war zone”.
Several local DUP representatives, including Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, have called on senior civil servants and even the Secretary of State to intervene to expedite the transfer of the homes, but they have been told any such move would have to be signed off by the Assembly.
The department has revealed that it has incurred costs of almost £68,000 since it acquired the properties in January - money spent on paying rates, carrying out work to secure the houses and removing oil tanks.
Responding to concerns about ongoing vandalism and anti-social behaviour, the department stressed that it is paying out, on average, £1,200 a month for a private security firm to protect the properties.
Local DUP Councillor Jonathan Craig described the current situation as “ridiculous”.
“Clanmil want to refurbish these homes and make them available to people who need them, but because there is no Assembly the whole thing is just left in limbo and the department is having to spend money on a private security firm to try to secure the area. It’s ridiculous that this transfer is being held up. It’s a non-controversial issue and no one would object to it,” he said.
His party colleague, Edwin Poots MLA, added: “Considerable money is being paid out for security, rates, removal of oil tanks etc, and there is a potential danger to the young people who are going in and out of the houses, so for the public good we feel this matter needs to be moved on and moved on quickly. It’s not in the public interest to defer making a decision on this issue.”
Mr Poots, who said he’d like to see the Assembly operational again and making decisions on such matters as soon as possible, added: “We need more social and affordable housing in the Lisburn area and this was meant to help meet that deficit. But instead of that we are spending money on rates, security and a variety of other things, instead of actually making these houses available to the public and getting money back in from them. It’s a lose, lose situation not proceeding with it.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Communities commented: “Given the current situation with regard to the Assembly, the department is seeking advice as to whether it would be possible to effect the transfer of the former MoD properties to Clanmil when the Assembly is not sitting.”
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