Northern Ireland news

Photographic and map project shows how vacant land and properties can ease Belfast's housing crisis

The 25-acre Mackie's site in west Belfast is owned by the Department for Communities. Picture by Mal McCann

A PROJECT to be launched tonight will show how vacant land and properties in Belfast could be used for social housing.

The project by Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR) asked families in housing need to take photographs of empty land and buildings in their area.

More than 40 families, trained by photographer Mal McCann, have taken part in the mapping project.

PPR has also spent over a decade compiling detailed maps of Belfast which show the pieces of land owned by government.

Seán MacBradaigh, from PPR, said the project aimed to show ways of resolving the housing crisis in the city.

"There really is enough land and property to solve the housing crisis, maybe a few times over in Belfast," he said.

PPR's first land-mapping exercise took place in 2015.

"Families mapped out five key sites in the city," he said.

"On four of those five sites there are now homes being built."

In west Belfast, the number of children in households on the housing waiting list rose from 1,850 in December 2019 to at least 1,964 in March 2021.

Mr MacBradaigh said the site of the former Mackie's factory in west Belfast should be used to help ease the housing crisis in the city.

"It's the biggest piece of public land in the city and it's located in the areas of highest housing demand," he said.

"It's a no-brainer in terms of tackling the housing crisis.

"There are seven homeless hostels within a mile radius of the Mackie's site."

"The argument is you can't put homes there because they are interfaces," he said.

"It's not good enough that there is available land in the city but it can't be used.

"We need to build a city which is integrated and inclusive, where every religion and skin colour can live side-by-side, if we're going to build a sustainable city at all."

Tonight, the Take Back the City project will unveil a masterplan for the Mackie's site which "can be replicated across the city", Mr MacBradaigh said.

He said a multi-layered map, which also forms part of the project, shows "ownership, planning, legacy, what people are going to do with it (land) or might intend to do with it".

"The layers on the map are to show how this city might look in the next 40 to 50 years," he said.

Twasul Nasraldeen (PPR) with some of families creating a photographic map of the city where potential homes could be built. Picture by Mal McCann

He said the map aimed to allow "families, politicians, citizens to look at the city and project into the future and plan for the needs of the city".

PPR will launch its housing project online at 7pm today. To view the photos, maps and other material, visit

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