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‘No surprise’ at critical Helm report

By Scott Jamison

A South Belfast community worker has said he is not surprised a local housing association that delayed a £1 million social housing scheme in the Markets for nearly two years has been criticised for “significant and substantial failings”.

Gerard Davison of the Markets Development Association (MDA) was speaking after the release of a report by the Department for Social Development into Helm Housing on Monday (January 16).

The report heavily criticised senior management at the organisation and found problems in areas such as procurement procedures not being followed correctly; breaches of statutory approvals; incorrect use of consultants and incorrect procedures for procurement of land.

It followed the suspension of Helm from the DSD’s social development programme in March 2011. However, the report added there was no evidence of illegal or fraudulent behaviour.

A 14 apartment social housing development built by Helm in McAuley Street, originally due to be opened in November 2009, was only eventually allocated in August last year after a string of delays in gaining planning permission. Gerard  Davison said he was not surprised by this week’s report due to the problems the MDA had experienced with Helm.

“There is a chronic need for social housing in the Markets, anybody can see that. We had 25 people scheduled for these apartments, which would have taken a quarter of the waiting list away instantly, therefore it would have been highly significant.

“Because Helm built the development without planning permission, it took them nearly two years for the apartments to be allocated and in that time they sat idle while people all around them were in desperate need for homes.

“Dealing with Helm was a disaster from start to finish. Because they bought the land and built without permission, they ignored the correct procedures and put the cart before the horse, instead of just keeping things simple and allocating the homes in the right way.”

Following publication of the report, Greg Lomax, interim chief executive at Helm Housing said a “comprehensive improvement programme” to ensure the issues detailed in it were not repeated.

“We have also appointed a compliance officer to review all procedures and policies to ensure industry best practice is adhered to at all times. In addition, we are in the process of reviewing management structures and significant changes to the senior management team have already been made.

“Our board of management is also being reviewed. Once all board members are confirmed, a training programme will be implemented to assist the board in fulfilling its role and responsibilities. Helm Housing has an obligation to manage and maintain the homes of its tenants and the organisation will continue to fulfil this responsibility.”




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