THE NORTHERN 1REI.AND Environment Minister, Chris Patten, has replied to criticism of the housing executive by Bishop Cahal Daly of Down and Connor, who recently called for the demolition of Divis flats, in west Belfast.
The bishop claimed that the worst flats in the Divis complex were a "disgrace to public housing" and "quite unfit for human habitation". He said there was no acceptable solution other than the complete demolition of the flats and their replacement by conventional housing.
Asked last week about Dr Daly's remarks, Mr Patten pointed out that the British Government had already announced that £1 million was to be spent on the demolition of two of' the blocks in the Divis complex and a rehabilitation programme on the remaining flats which he hoped would be carried out soon. However a spokesman for the Department of the Environment confirmed that there were no plans for the complete demolition of the flats which the bishop and the local residents association have demanded.
When he announced his plan last November to demolish 86 flats in the Pound and St Brendan's blocks, the Minister made it clear that complete demolition was "not a realistic option" for the rest of the complex was structurally sound.
He said he realised that the 500 remaining families in the flats wanted to be rehoused in traditional accommodation in the lower Falls, hut this was "simply not practicable" because or the shortage of available land in the area.
But the Divis residents say they will continue their campaign to have all the flats knocked down and replaced with conventional houses. They see the bishop's intervention as a welcome boost to their efforts.