AMANDA FERGUSON in Belfast
Monday, June 20, 2022
A leading restaurateur is considering quitting his current Belfast city centre premises because the Bank Square location is ‘a nightmare’.
Bob McCoubrey, owner of the Mourne Seafood Bar since 2006, told amanda.ie he is seriously thinking about moving to another location.
Mr McCoubrey is concerned about the ongoing impact on his business of the Primark reconstruction site, but says his main issue is the Housing Executive using a premises next door from his as 'a bail hostel'.
“We always had antisocial behaviour but since the pandemic it has got worse.
“We also have people with chaotic lifestyles, and no supervision, who were only supposed to be housed on a temporary basis making life miserable for staff and deterring customers.”
He says among the issues, which happen for a range of reasons, are:
Fighting in the street
Fireworks being thrown from windows
Threats to staff
Defecation near the restaurant
Customers being jeered at and intimidated when they arrive and leave the indoor and outdoor premises.
Self harm and suicide attempts in the street
A young man reportedly lost his life and his body wasn’t found for a period of two weeks.
Amanda.ie has seen correspondence Mr McCoubrey has had with key stakeholders.
He claims he has had difficult getting replies and/or satisfactory support from Belfast City Council, the Housing Executive, and Stormont's Department for Communities.
“I have pleaded with people to help. They know what is going on is wrong. An alternative needs to be found now. It is destroying hospitality in the area.”
He says the PSNI has been supportive and appreciates the position the restaurant is in.
He said: “The planning department in Belfast City Council started enforcement proceedings, but yet the Housing Executive is continuing to renew the lease.
“If things don’t improve we will have to leave this area of Belfast."
He added: "We are fed up. And other business owners have been in tears over it.
“The city centre just doesn’t feel like a safe space anymore.”
A range of issues have been highlighted in this story. You can access support via online searches including https://www.lifelinehelpline.info
Statement from Belfast City Council: “A planning enforcement case has been opened in relation to accommodation at 38-42 Bank Street. Council has also engaged directly with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive after receiving a complaint from a business owner about alleged drug use and anti-social behaviour at this site.
“Staff from our Safer Neighbourhood and Outreach teams were tasked to the area to offer support, and we continue to work closely with our partners in statutory, community and voluntary organisations to support them in tackling these complex issues and ending long-term homelessness in the city.
“A number of initiatives have also been undertaken by Council to support businesses and revitalise the wider Bank Square area, including the opening of a meanwhile use events space at 2 Royal Avenue, £75,000 of support to business clusters to improve outdoor spaces, and work with city partners to enhance public realm and increase pedestrian and cycle access.”
A DfC spokesperson said: “The Minister is committed to addressing homelessness and will ensure housing services identify those at risk, provide support, and make any stay in temporary accommodation as short as possible.
“The Department is committed to working with health colleagues to providing all support possible at this time, but that is no substitute for a fully functioning Executive and agreed budget .
“The Housing Executive has statutory responsibility for responding to homelessness including the provision of homelessness accommodation.
“Responsibility for addressing anti-social behaviour in the area rests with the local council, the Housing Executive, the private landlord and police.”
June 21 update:
Statement re: Temporary accommodation
Grainia Long, Chief Executive of the Housing Executive said: “We’ve statutory responsibility for homelessness in Northern Ireland and when people present to us we must carry out a person-centred homelessness assessment, to determine their needs.
“We have a duty to provide temporary accommodation to individuals while we complete our enquiries and for those who are assessed to be homeless.
“Last year, we assessed more than 15,000 applications from individuals who presented as homeless and we made more than 9,000 placements in temporary accommodation.
“This compares with 3,354 placements in 2018/19, which represents an
unprecedented level of demand and therefore requires us to place much greater numbers of people in so-called ‘non standard’ temporary accommodation, for longer periods of time.
“A number of different types of accommodation are therefore in use, in various locations across Northern Ireland, to allow us to meet our duty to provide accommodation for those in need.
“These include traditional hostel provision and single let* accommodation in the private rented sector.
“As a last resort and if no other places in temporary accommodation are
unavailable, we use bed & breakfasts and hotels.
“While these types of accommodation are not ideal, placements in these types of accommodation are carefully and proactively managed.
“We work to find more suitable accommodation as soon as is practical and possible.
“From the outset, at the accommodation in question, we ensured that additional measures were in place to meet the needs of a diverse range of clients, some with complex issues and this has meant working closely with voluntary sector partners across the city.
“The housing sector is under immense pressure to provide suitable temporary accommodation and it is unlikely that this pressure will reduce for some time.
“Our teams of experienced housing professionals are acutely aware of the scale of homelessness in Northern Ireland and the increasing demand for temporary accommodation.
“There is a level of complexity involved in ensuring the right housing and support solutions and we work with our voluntary and community partners to provide these services in extremely challenging circumstances.”
*‘Single Let Accommodation’ refers to accommodation sourced via the Private Rented sector, where the household is the sole occupant of self-contained property, such as a flat or a house.
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