Belfast Telegraph

Minister Morrow warns public housing facing decline unless £8bn is invested by 2046

By Noel McAdam

Faced with future costs of more than £8bn, the Housing Executive is in danger of "long-term decline", a Stormont minister has warned.

Assembly Members were bluntly told the challenge on housing after the election will be to find and agree a way to allow the Housng Executive to borrow money.

Social Development Minister Lord Morrow made clear while there had been a number of reports on the way forward for the organisation over the past 10 years, "we do not have another 10 years".

He told MLAs the Housing Executive needed to invest £6.7bn over the next 30 years to bring all its homes up to an acceptable standard "and keep them in that condition".

In addition, a backlog of maintenance work has built up which would cost £1.5bn in the next five years - a total of £8.3bn overall.

He said: "Those are huge sums of money. Only part of it can be covered from the rental income collected by the Housing Executive. It will also need a massive injection of extra capital of between £470m and £700m to address the backlog.

"Let me issue a stark warning: if we fail to meet that challenge, the main function of future ministers with responsibility for housing will likely be to oversee the deterioration of the Housing Executive's stock and the long-term decline of the organisation itself."

Quizzed by MLAs, including Ulster Unionist Roy Beggs and SDLP deputy leader Dolores Kelly, Lord Morrow said: "There has to be what I would call some 'blue-sky thinking' in relation to how housing is done in the future and how it is financed.

"If we are not up for change, there are many challenges ahead and we will fall further behind again in the maintenance of housing stock."

Sinn Fein's Fra McCann argued: "There has been a bit of shadow-boxing going on over the past four years as regards the future structures of social housing."

He asked for the on-going sale of Housing Executive homes to be suspended as a way to protect current employees until social housing policy was back on track.

Lord Morrow replied: "I have to say that I will not be advocating a change in that policy.

"I believe that it is a good policy that has served society well over the years."

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