Rathcoole community group calls for retention of estate’s tower blocks

The Chair of Rathcoole-based community group, Listening Ear, has contacted the Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to appeal for the estate’s four iconic multi-storeys to be retained.

Thursday, 15th April 2021, 5:29 pm
Updated Thursday, 15th April 2021, 5:43 pm

Brian Kerr contacted the housing authority on April 8 to register the group’s objection to the proposed demolition of Monkscoole House and Abbotscoole House.

In January 2020 the Department for Communities approved the Housing Executive’s business case recommending the demolition of Monkscoole House.

The adjacent Abbotscoole House is also earmarked for removal.

In January 2020 the Department for Communities approved the Housing Executive’s business case recommending the demolition of Monkscoole House.

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In his correspondence to Grainia Long, Mr Kerr said: “As per the Housing Executive’s own figures on March 30 2021 Newtownabbey 1 has a waiting list of 537 one bedroom needs, 343 two bedroom needs and 100 three bedroom needs.

“These figures demonstrate that there is a need to retain and build additional homes within the area, not to remove homes.

“As you are aware due to your previous role as a Human Rights Commissioner there is a right to adequate housing.

“It is our position that there has been a failure by the Housing Executive to consider the business case and housing needs to retain these vital community resources. The cost to demolish these resources and build directly numbered homes, the disposal costs and carbon footprint costs has not been detailed or fully detailed to the community.

“There has been a very limited and inadequate attempt by the Housing Executive in community level participation in the decision making to date.

“On November 4 2020 Caral Ni Chulin, the Minister from the Department of Communities in the Northern Ireland Assembly announced her plans for housing. She indicated an intention to allow the Housing Executive to borrow money again to invest in stock.

“With this announcement coming after the Housing Executive’s decisions on Monkscoole and Abbotscoole House (pending) we would request that this decision be overturned, that the properties are protected and brought back to a standard to address the housing needs within the area.

“It would be our position that the value of the contracts will trigger the requirement for social responsibility inclusion. With this in mind we would encourage the Housing Executive to work with local schools and Northern Regional College to establish apprenticeships in the refurbishment work of the properties.

“Listening Ear awaits your response and hopefully further engagement and communication on the decision making to address the housing needs of the community within the area.”

The Newtownabbey Times contacted the Housing Executive for a response following the appeal from Listening Ear.

In a statement issued to this newspaper, a NIHE spokesperson said: “Our Tower Blocks Action Plan was approved by our Board and the Department for Communities in 2019 and sets out a range of short, medium and long term actions which will eventually lead to the disposal of all tower blocks in our ownership across Northern Ireland.

“The main focus on the plan is to replace tower blocks with modern homes, to help revitalise communities and provide much needed housing in our estates. In Rathcoole, we consulted extensively and the residents of the blocks were kept informed about our proposals. A number of meetings with community and elected representatives have taken place since then.

“Our Action Plan was devised against a background of significant funding shortfalls, which impacts on our ability to maintain our stock.

“For health and safety reasons, Monkscoole House was cleared and closed in 2020.

“A significant investment is required in these older type of tower blocks, particularly given targets on decarbonisation and importantly, meeting safety standards in the wake of the Grenfell Fire disaster. New social housing would better suit the needs of the local community and this is planned for this site, while allocations for apartment style accommodation will continue in Rathcoole.

“Since the initial development of the Rathcoole Estate Strategy, millions of pounds have been invested locally and this investment will continue.

“Some of Rathcoole’s original housing has already been replaced and a refurbishment programme is planned which will include both Carncoole House and Glencoole House.

“New, modern social housing, fit for purpose in the 21st Century, is a valuable opportunity in continuing the regeneration of Rathcoole.”

Asked to clarify the waiting list figures detailed by Mr Kerr, the spokesperson added: “The waiting list figures provided to Mr Kerr by the local office were accurate, but included those wishing to transfer from existing social housing accommodation and those requiring sheltered accommodation. Also included in this are those applicants who have not chosen Rathcoole as their primary area of choice however due to the length of time on the waiting list the General Housing Area has been applied.

“It should be noted that the waiting list is a live list where data continually changes.”

The tender for the demolition of Monkscoole House was advertised on February 17 2021 and the last date for submissions is March 18.

The spokesperson explained: “To date, no contractor has been appointed to remove the tower block.”

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