Stormont Executive to discuss how to help residents of defective Belfast flats

The Stormont Executive is set to discuss how to help residents of a defective flat complex.

First Minister Michelle O’Neill and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly expressed sympathy with the residents and pledged to find ways to help them during a joint visit to business FinTru in Belfast on Wednesday.

They said ministers will have discussions on what can be done at Thursday’s Executive meeting.

It comes after a legal bid for compensation by the owners of the Victoria Square apartments failed last week after it was found to have fallen outside the terms of existing legislation, which requires claims to be made within six years of the property’s construction.

Coronavirus – Fri Jan 8, 2020
Victoria Square Shopping centre in Belfast city centre (Brian Lawless/PA)

Residents had to leave the apartments in 2019 after a defect was identified in a structural column. They have been unable to return yet are still subject to paying certain bills, such as rates, for their properties.

Ulster Garden Villages charity owns 54 of the 91 apartments in Victoria Square. The remaining properties are owned by individuals.

After the case was struck out, Assembly members have faced calls to change the law to extend the statutory time limit to 30 years.

The construction of the apartments, which sit above the Victoria Square shopping complex, was completed in 2008.

The limit for claims was extended from six years to 30 years in England and Wales two years ago.

Earlier this week the Stormont Minister for Communities Gordon Lyons, Minister of Finance Caoimhe Archibald and Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Andrew Muir pledged to bring forward legislation to address defective buildings in Northern Ireland.

Michelle O’Neill visit to FinTrU
First Minister Michelle O’Neill (left) and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly following meetings in south Belfast (Peter Morrison/PA)

On Wednesday, Ms O’Neill said conversations between ministers will be carried on to Thursday’s Executive meeting.

“This is such a distressing time for people, we know that, and all of our ministers are determined to try and do their best in terms of whatever legislative changes are required,” she said.

“We’ve had a meeting this week of our ministers working across different departments and we’ll carry that conversation to the Executive tomorrow. We have to find ways to help these people, this is a traumatising time for those people.”

Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly added: “There is a fundamental unfairness here.

“I think all of us can feel that and we need to do something to support those people who have been caught in this situation through no fault of their own despite being at significant financial loss, and I’ve no doubt a significant amount of worry about this for some considerable years.”

“We’ll be discussing this tomorrow. I am very, very keen that we take urgent action to support those people and I understand that will probably require legislative change but of course we will work on that urgently in hand with our legal advisers to see what we can do, but absolutely clear that these people are very, very worried, (we are) happy to meet with them and talk with them about what we need to do.

“We do want to support them in every way that we can.”