World famous American hoaxers the Yes Men wreaked havoc in Belfast in a bid to get social housing on the agenda.

Andy Bichlbaum, Jeff Walburn and Natalie Whiteman passed themselves off as directors of the firm behind Tribeca Belfast at two events to raise awareness of homelessness in the city.

They "cancelled" the multimillion pound Castlebrooke Investments project falsely saying it will be replaced by a Sunflower Village of 250 social homes with sustainable technology, communal greenspace with indigenous flora, fauna and space for wildlife and cycle paths on the Mackies site.

The activists even went to the effort of creating a new website for the imaginary project and ‘subvertising’ it on billboards and bus stops across the city.

A spoof release from ‘Castlebrooke Community’ read: “In 2016, the Belfast City Council contracted Castlebrooke Investments to build Tribeca Belfast, a 12-acre redevelopment plan to revitalise Belfast City Centre through retail, office, and hospitality space.

“As of this week, this plan has been cancelled.

“Belfast City Council was compelled to change directions due to significant pressure from the public to address a longstanding need for social housing over the facilities we had mutually planned to build. We, as well as our investors, are disappointed in this change. But we are looking forward to the project rising in its place: Mackies Sunflower EcoVillage.”

Andy Bichlbaum said he has come to love Belfast’s character on his week-long trip from New York and said it would be a shame to see skyscrapers replace “weird little pubs” and that we could use a little more social housing.

The hoax plans have been posted on billboards to spark conversation on social homes

He told the Mirror: “There is £500m pounds for social housing in Belfast and £400m of that goes to private landlords, £100m goes to building social housing and that’s a little bit of a travesty.

“We were hired by ‘Castlebrooke’ [he joked] to communicate this great new thing that they are doing - the Sunflower Ecovillage.

“They changed their website for us.

“We were at a manufacturing and supply expo at the Titanic Centre and gave a stirring speech complete with a video and got a rousing bunch of excited responses.

“Then we went to the Assembly buildings for the Belfast Forward Conference where Suzanne Wylie, head of the city council was speaking, to talk about urban development in Belfast.

“We had this wonderful announcement from 'Castlebrooke' and it turns out someone else from [the real] Castlebrooke was there so there was a bit of conflict and he won and kicked us out.”

The 'plans' are also 'subvertised on bus stops across the city

Andy said Castlebrooke Community’s imagined Sunflower EcoVillage would “be the first of its kind in Northern Ireland” and “much much cheaper than Tribeca” though he admits it “would bring in much less money”.

“But that’s not really the point,” he added.

“You have a giant budget, instead of giving it to private landlords, use it to build social housing.”

Sean Brady from PPR said: “They have ruffled a few feathers about how decision making happens.

“There was a very serious point about everything that was going on... about injustices we face on housing, health and unemployment and how decision makers really aren’t listening to people that need homes.”

Spoof flyers

A Castlebrooke Investments spokesperson said on Thursday: “We are aware of a fake news release which has been issued today in relation to Sunflower Eco Village. This statement has not been issued by Castlebrooke Investments.”

A Belfast City Council spokeswoman added: “We are aware of a statement purporting to be from Belfast City Council in relation to ‘Sunflower Eco Village’. This statement is fake and has not been issued by Belfast City Council .”

The Yes Men are encouraging people to join them to plant sunflowers this “very auspicious Leap Day” and celebrate the launch of Mackies Sunflower EcoVillage, next to the Innovation Factory, Forthriver Business Park, 385 Springfield Rd, Belfast BT12 7DG.

Plans for Tribeca Belfast were approved by the council in January and will go ahead.