Public Inquiry Report

BLACKSTAFF COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT ASSOCIATION

(BLACKSTAFF RESIDENTS)

FROM THE PUBLIC INQUIRY REPORT

At the public Inquiry, Blackstaff Homeowners' Association had arranged for Craig Dunford BL to represent the views of its members. The opening remarks by the inspector gave us the impression that he wanted to rush the process, for example he said that he did not want a whole lot of people saying the same thing. Although this may not seem to be serious it nevertheless gave a very bad impression that he wished to have the inquiry over as quickly as possible. We then became concerned about the interruptions by the inspector when our legal representative was dealing with the fitness survey that was carried out by VB Evans on behalf of the Housing Executive in 2003. During one of these interruptions the inspector made remarks that clearly gave support to the application for vesting in order for the Housing Executive to demolish 538 properties. His words caused delight to the officials of Greater Village Regeneration Trust (salaries paid by DSD) and their supporters and this was manifested in loud applause and cheering from that quarter. Supporters of 100% redevelopment extending to include the improvement area clearly understood that the inspectors words meant support for the demolishing all the 538 properties in the redevelopment zone by their enthusiastic response to the inspectors words. This caused great concern in the minds of the homeowners and from conversations afterwards, many were convinced that the inspector had already made up his mind. Craig Dunford was clearly concerned by the inspector’s words and attempted to get a clear assurance that he had not made up his mind and that he would be impartial. It is our understanding that Craig Dunford during an exchange of words with the inspector was not convinced that the inquiry would be fair and impartial. He consulted the few members of the Homeowners' Association who were present at the time and informed them that he had no confidence in the inspector and as far as he (Craig Dunford) was concerned the inspector had already made up his mind. Our legal representative then withdrew from the inquiry along with Billy Dickson, the chairman of the Homeowners' Association. On the second day Craig Dunford returned as an observer and Billy Dickson returned to make a presentation on behalf of Blackstaff Community Development Association which is separate from the Homeowners' Association although he is chairman of both.

"This Inquiry in your person has shown itself to be partial, to be in breach of the rules of natural justice and on behalf of the Homeowners Association of Blackstaff, I will not prostitute myself before it any further, I withdraw. (The audience applauds)" Mr Craig Dunford BL.

ALL SIX SOUTH BELFAST MLAs WERE

 MISSING FROM THE PUBLIC INQUIRY  

THE CHAIRMAN: I think I want to clarify this again. I am here to give a judgment as to whether or not Option 4 is the solution to the problem. If Option 4 is not the solution to the problem I will not be taking on board Option 7, I will be sending the whole lot back to the department who will be sending the whole lot back to the

Housing Executive and it is up to them if they don't like what I do, then they don't appoint me again, but that is my job, I keep it clear, I keep it simple. We are dealing here with ordinary people like myself and they don't understand all of the procedures and I think it is important that we clarify these procedures for them, that

is the whole idea of having a Public Inquiry and I certainly do not want people misled into believing that if they all go for Option 7 and I have asked to be corrected if I am wrong, that, great, we are going for great Option 7, it suits

everybody; Option 7 is not on the table. It hasn't been funded, there is no funding for it and if Option 4 falls the money will be reallocated by the Department for Social Development and referred back to DFP, Department of Finance and Personnel. So, that is the big danger and this has happened before, you know in my experience, in my time it has happened before and I just alert you to that. You need to be very, very careful what you argue for because we are not here to argue here for something more than Option 4. MR DUNFORD: Sir, if I have an opposition to Option 4 I have to state the grounds of my opposition. THE CHAIRMAN: You are not giving grounds for the opposition; you are, with respect to you, you are leading this Inquiry towards Option 7 as a better option than Option 4. MR DUNFORD: Yes, in this sense and only in a sense--THE

CHAIRMAN: But why, why not introduce an Option 8, which somebody else will try to do? MR DUNFORD: Sir, can I just try and address you on your concern if I may, if I may? THE CHAIRMAN: Yeah. MR DUNFORD: The reason that we do not like Option 4 is because we think that

Option 7 or something very near to it is better. No, what that means for the purpose of this inquiry is that we have to come here and say why we do not like Option 4,

 

would we think Option 4 is wrong, why it is bad, why it would not be in the best

interests of this community and the reason in essence why we say that is because we have a positive approach, an alternative approach that embodies something very similar to Option 7. I understand that Option 7 is not on the table in the sense that this Inquiry would say that Option 4 is no good, we therefore recommend Option 7. I know that this Inquiry cannot do that. THE CHAIRMAN: Right, as long the audience knows that. MR DUNFORD: We know that. We know that we would have to go back to the drawing board but we would have to do that with Option 4 because there aren't at present any designs for Option 4. There may be funding for the concept called Option 4 and it maybe yes, sir if option 4---if I can just make this point, sir, it may be necessary if Option 4 is rejected, for a case then to be made that funding should be re allocated to some other option and the risk is that for what ever reason, political or otherwise the decision is taken to say no to that funding. That is the risk we run, we recognise that but it doesn't make Option 4 any better. THE CHAIRMAN: It is your opinion that Option 4 isn't the best. MR DUNFORD: That is right. THE CHAIRMAN: And what I have seen I think it is better than Option 7. (The audience applauded)

Now, you have had the Investments Appraisal and I have had the presentation and then I have asked for copies to proceed. Now, from what I have seen I think Option 4 is better than Option 7 in my experience. Over 40 years I can assure, if you go down to Connswater, you name a few places, you go down to Connswater and you ask the people in Connswater what they would have done 30 years ago had they been given the chance, would they have gone for a complete vesting and rebuilding because that is what they ended up with anyway because the improvement did not work, because when you go to improve houses--

MR DUNFORD: I am sorry, sir, I have to ask you this, are you going to listen impartially? THE CHAIRMAN: I am listening impartially. I have given you a very fair hearing and you have tried to bend the Housing Executive who are the recognized housing   experts by Government, they are


appointed by Government and they have been in business a long time; 40 years I think, is that right? And what I am saying is that you are leading this, or trying to lead over to another option and that is only confusing the issue. MR DUNFORD: Sir, I must have an assurance from you in the hearing of this hall that you will give an impartial hearing to the evidence that you will hear from Mr Acheson, Miss Harkin and Mr Patten. I have a grave concern, sir that the indication you have given is that your mind is made up. THE CHAIRMAN: My mind is not made up. What I am saying is--MR DUNFORD: I would like, sir, to ask you for a break for 10 minutes so we can withdraw, we can cool down and we can revisit this? THE CHAIRMAN: Yes. MR DUNFORD: Would you grant that? THE CHAIRMAN: Absolutely. MR DUNFORD: I am grateful to you. After a break from 11.55 am until 12.10 pm THE CHAIRMAN: I understand that Mr Craig Dunford wants to make a public statement. MR DUNFORD: Thank you. THE CHAIRMAN: And I am quite happy to hear it, which means we need to hear it. MR DUNFORD: The statement, sir is this: This Inquiry in your person has shown itself to be partial, to be in breach of the rules of natural justice and on behalf of the Homeowners Association of Blackstaff, I will not prostitute myself before it any further, I withdraw. (The audience applauds) MR DUNFORD WITHDREW FROM THE INQUIRY at 12.12 pm. THE CHAIRMAN: The verbatim report will record that Mr Craig Dunford withdrew

from the Inquiry.


 The fact is that the Blackstaff Homeowners' Association were without legal representation for most of the public inquiry. Individuals did speak at the inquiry but the opportunity to challenge the case put forward by Housing Executive was lost and the Homeowners' Association were left without their legal representative they had appointed to represent them.

WE WERE DEVASTATED BY THE INSPECTOR'S SUPPORT

FOR OPTION 4

 The public inquiry was clearly flawed and so was, in our opinion the outcome of the public inquiry. After years of hard work and campaigning for the public inquiry, we got absolutely nothing. Our views (if they were seriously considered) were rejected.

We had also written to the DSD requesting that the Department provide us with a breakdown of the written objections street by street. We just wanted the total for each street and the main reason(s) for objection. This request was also refused. In regard to the 77 objectors, we believe it is unfair to continue the impression that they were local residents in the redevelopment or improvement zone if they are not? We believe that by providing this information that it will confirm that most were 'outsiders'. We also think it strange that assuming that the 77 were local residents from the two zones that only one spoke at the public inquiry? We have very strong reservations about the 77 letters of objection in support of 100% redevelopment as we know a large bundle of pre-printed letters of objections was hand delivered by an active member of the Village Housing Focus Committee who has been to the forefront of campaigning for 100% redevelopment. This was the day after the final date for written objections although the date was extended. If what we say is true (and we believe it is because of our local knowledge), then it is very unfair to have treated these 77 objectors with equal consideration as the other 43 objectors who face the loss of their homes and also unfair to hide the facts. We would point out that we believe that the 43 letters were posted through Royal Mail and over a period of time and that the majority of the letters came from residents living in the redevelopment zone. The Department for Social Development 'cannot' provide us with details of the number of letters of objections from each street and the dates they received them. When we asked why not? we were informed that they do not keep this information.

 We had made repeated requests over the years to meet the Minister and she has never once held a full meeting with us. We had also a number of points we wished to discuss with the Minister but due to her refusal to talk with us, we arranged for a few MLAs to make them on our behalf as questions at the Assembly. We are far from happy with some of the answers we have received and will support our view that the whole process was irrational, unfair and biased.

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