Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland housing market 'could face collapse' after council reforms

By Simon Rowe

The Department of the Environment has denied there will be an "adverse impact" on the housing market from local government reform after a former Law Society president warned that the market "faces collapse" because of confusion over planning matters.

Solicitor Brian Walker has claimed there will be mayhem in the housing market early next year through the "failure of government to adopt an urgent and co-ordinated approach to the consequences of local government reforms".

Mr Walker said a lack of clarity on the process of council amalgamation risks damaging the fragile property market. The DoE power to issue property certificates – required before any house sale can take place or a mortgage approval can be granted – is transferring to councils in April 2015.

However, with new councils being established and boundaries being redrawn, the process will be mired in chaos, claimed Mr Walker, a Portadown-based solicitor and senior Law Society member.

From April 2015, solicitors involved in house sales will have to apply to councils for property certificates, but Mr Walker warned: "There is a big danger that if nothing is done in the next few weeks then no mortgages will be completed by May 2015."

A spokesman for the Department of the Environment said it had appointed transition committees to oversee the amalgamation of the present 26 councils into 11 new bodies and to ensure the housing market is not affected.

"The department is working very closely with local government on this issue, to ensure a seamless transition so that the property certificate system will work very effectively post-transfer. It is essential that there will be no adverse impact on the housing market as a result of the transition," he said.

Solicitors are fearful of anything that might harm the housing market recovery after a massive downturn in conveyancing fees in recent years.

Law Society president Richard Palmer said earlier: "For solicitors it was not just the area of conveyancing which was affected by the stagnation of the property market, it also impacted on other traditional areas of solicitors' work, such as matrimonial matters and administration of estates, which, of course, were often dependent upon the sale of a property or properties."

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