Belfast Telegraph

Plans to scrap Housing Executive under attack

By Noel McAdam

Stormont Minister Nelson McCausland’s plans to abolish the Housing Executive have come under fire from his predecessor.

The SDLP’s Alex Attwood said that his successor had “jumped the gun” with his “vastly premature” proposals which plunge the future organisation of public housing into doubt.

Mr McCausland faced further criticism for avoiding answering questions in the Assembly on the plans to dismantle the body.

The social development chief instead issued a written statement just a few days before MLAs are due to return in full from from their Christmas recess.

Under the proposals the Department for Social Development would be responsible for housing strategy, policy, legislation, funding and inspection.

It would be supported by a new regional housing body, alongside the development of a new landlord function in the public sector, enabling access to private funding through an independent social housing rent panel which will agree annual rent levels.

The current Housing Council, on which local government is represented, is also to be abolished, but some housing functions are due to be transferred to the 11 new amalgamated councils after they come on stream next year.

Mr Attwood, who oversaw the initial part of the social housing review, argued: “Not for the first time, the minister has got ahead of himself .

“To discard the NIHE name needlessly is to throw away a valuable brand and a heritage.”

However, he admitted the proposals did appear designed to help boost the building of new social housing in the years ahead.

Meanwhile, Mr Attwood’s SDLP colleague and committee member Mark H. Durkan accused Mr McCausland of “rank cowardice” by not appearing in the Assembly and pursuing a “vendetta” against the Housing Executive.

There were also concerns over the future for some of the Housing Executive’s current 2,800 staff.

But last night Mr McCausland said no-one need be alarmed and stressed the exercise was not about cutting staff or saving money.

Attacking Mr Durkan’s comments as “rather silly,” the minister argued: “There is a general acceptance across the political spectrum that this is the right direction of travel.”

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