'Right time' for Springfield Road peaceline homes facelift
THEY are homes along a peace wall interface in west Belfast that have lain derelict for many years.
With mesh-covered windows and long languishing in disrepair, the lone set of semi-detatched houses are beside a security gate that has been a flashpoint for sectarian tensions.
But now the properties are being renovated by a property developer – in a move being seen a positive step of community regeneration.
The homes are located along the mainly nationalist Springfield Road beside a security gate at its junction with Workman Avenue.
Constructed almost three decades ago, the gate is fixed to the houses on one side of the residential street and a towering peace wall on the other.
Over the years the gate has been the scene of unrest including parading tensions, sectarian attacks and vandalism.
Some participants in the annual Whiterock parade had been permitted to pass through the gate until last year when the Parades Commission rerouted the contentious march.
Although the once heavily fortified gate was replaced with a less formidable one in 2015, it is still closed overnight to pedestrians and usually remains permanently shut to vehicles.
The three-bedroom properties are thought to have remained unoccupied for around 10 years.
They had previously been on the market for the bargain price of around £50,000 for the pair.
But in recent weeks builders have begun renovations, with plans to put the properties on the market within weeks.
Chris O'Halloran, director of Forthspring Inter Community Group which helps build cross-community relationships along the interface and neighbours the properties, welcomed the development as a "positive sign".
"When the buildings were empty and derelict, they were kind of symptomatic of the relationship between the two communities here, that no-one felt willing to live in these houses," he said.
"I suppose it's a positive sign that whoever owns the properties feels the atmosphere has changed to the extent that they feel people will be prepared to live in them.
"I think it's an indication that we are living in a more peaceful time, and the prospects to the developer look positive enough to invest a significant amount of money."
He added: "I would see it as a small step towards a better future."
Mr O'Halloran described a "cautious sense of optimism" in the area, adding: "There is a steady progression between community groups and community leaders on both sides of the interface."
Sean Murray, chairman of Clonard Residents' Association, also welcomed to the refurbishment.
"I don't like to see derelict homes because there is a big demand for homes in the area," he said.
"My only concern is, will people be allowed to live in peace there if they acquire these houses, because its position is vulnerable there."
But he added: "If they're good homes and people are allowed to live in peace there it can only be a positive."
The houses are being refurbished by Belfast-based firm JDM Property, which hopes to have them on the market within weeks.
JDM director Jim Conlon said the houses were acquired last year at an auction.
"It has been a long time since there has been any trouble there so we thought it was probably the right time to get in there and get them refurbished," he said.
"Hopefully it helps the look of the road driving on that bend. We're looking forward to taking the steel mesh off the windows."
He encouraged anyone with enquiries about the homes to contact Belfast estate agent Northern Property.