Sinn Féin calls on DSD Minister to cease embargo on development in Castle Street area
Sinn Féin MLA Fra McCann has said that the release of a masterplan for the Castle Street and King Street area is an empty gesture by the DSD Minister unless she also ends the embargo on development in the area which her Department has imposed.
The West Belfast Assembly member said that Sinn Féin made a detailed submission to a consultation conducted 12 months ago by the Department of Social Development but has since not received a response to any of the concerns or suggestions raised.
"'DSD have been talking for years about what they are going to do to improve and develop the Castle Street area.
"I have been working with the traders of Castle Street over the course of the last few years as they have campaigned for major redevelopment and restructuring in the general Castle Street/King Street/Bank Square area.
"Castle Street is the gateway to West Belfast where over a third of the population of Belfast live. To get into the city centre people in West Belfast pass through Castle Street . It is an extremely busy street but has been allowed to remain in a bad state and is run down.
"Any work that has taken place in the Castle Street area has been largely cosmetic. Even that work has only come about by campaigning local traders and ourselves as public representatives. Both Paul Maskey MLA and I have facilitated a number of meetings in relation to this area and we have impressed upon the DSD Minister, Margaret Ritchie, the need to prioritise investment in this part of our city.
"Last year, DSD issued a consultation document about redevelopment of Castle Street and King Street . That document stated that DSD "does not anticipate bringing forward any comprehensive development scheme for this area at present". Sinn Féin responded critically to the DSD approach and, as with other consultees from west Belfast, we have yet to receive any substantive response ahead of today's DSD publicity event.
"Sinn Féin has made clear that the connection between the Gaeltacht Quarter of west Belfast and the centre of this city needs to be embedded into any new development proposals. Therefore, whilst the idea of a new square will be welcomed by local traders, it's hard to understand why that would be branded as "Fountain square" which has no resonance with the Gaeltacht Quarter at all. The Department should be integrating the gaelic ethos of Gaeltacht Quarter into this city gateway, not tagging it on after.
''We do not yet know what brief has been given to a landscape architect for redevelopment of Bank Square because the Department has not responded to consultees and has not discussed this commission with those of us in public office. However, if DSD which withdrew funding from Feile an Phobail several years ago also fails to value the excellent use made of Bank square by Féile, then another opportunity will have been missed.
''One of the greatest concerns of Sinn Féin and local businesses alike is that the Department of Social Development has been operating a policy known as "sequential development". We oppose this policy which relegates this part of west Belfast to the end of a sequence set for development within this city. Sinn Féin had consistently demanded that Margaret Ritchie abandon that policy which contradicts government objectives to target resources towards areas of greatest social need.
"Sinn Féin has met with investors proposing a new hotel for the area and with the Westfield group which owns Castle Court and are proposing more than £200m of investment in the redevelopment of that retail centre. Together with local traders and the local community, there is a momentum for change which Sinn Féin is determined to drive.
"If Margaret Ritchie is genuine about working with those of us who hold public office for West Belfast and those in business and civic leadership, then the SDLP Minister must cease the relegation of west Belfast and abandon her so-called sequential development policy."