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Minister warns of ‘black hole’ in housing budget

By Noel McAdam

Published 04/02/2009

Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie has warned she faces a £200m ‘black hole’ in the housing budget over the next two years.

The shortfall is the equivalent of 2,000 new build homes which could help shore up the ailing construction industry, the SDLP Minister warned the Assembly.

It also underpins her party’s demand for a rethink of the three-year Programme for Government to take account of the economic downturn. From a projected total of more than £95m in capital receipts this year, less than £10m has actually materialised, Ms Ritchie told MLAs.

“Unless there is dramatic improvement in the economic environment, my department anticipates shortfalls of about £100m per annum in each of the next two years,” she said.|“That is equivalent to the loss of 1,000 newbuild houses per annum.”

However, former Executive Minister Edwin Poots, asked did the minister “recognise that her department has surrendered tens of millions of pounds in the monitoring rounds?

“Her department is seeking additional funding even though it cannot spend the funding for which it budgeted; does that not put a question mark over that department’s competence?” the DUP MLA asked.

Ms Ritchie said she was “very surprised” that a former minister would make such a suggestion.

“He is under a total misapprehension and is trying to ditch the issue. The DUP and Sinn Fein have tried to flog a dead horse,” she added.

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