Belfast Telegraph

Building a better way of housing

Cameron Watt

Northern Ireland is in the midst of a housing crisis, which is due to be debated in the Assembly on Monday.

22,000 households are in housing stress. Only 7,000 of the 11,000 homes we need annually are being built. 36% of young adults in Northern Ireland are still living with their parents – the highest rate in the UK.

There are no quick fixes. However, with our Government partners, housing associations are leading efforts to provide more homes for people in need.

Associations match Department for Social Development grants pound for pound with their own funds, doubling the number of homes that could otherwise be delivered.

This year, 1,300 new social homes will be started and more than 1,000 first-time buyers will be helped by Co-Ownership.

For 2014/15, the target for new social homes increases sharply from 1,300 to 2,000.

Achieving this 50% increase is possible, but not without concerted action across the Northern Ireland Executive to unblock many barriers to delivery.

Most urgent is a game-changer on land supply. Too many sites are still tied-up with the banks and Nama. Public bodies must do all they can to bring forward their unused land.

To boost delivery, ministers Nelson McCausland and Simon Hamilton can radically reduce the red tape increasingly driving our construction firms to seek work in Britain, rather than here.

Minister Mark H Durkan is committed to strengthening the draft planning framework to ensure housing need is robustly assessed and fully met through new development plans, including through an adequate supply of suitable sites. Minister John O'Dowd can help by ensuring that redundant school sites are made available.

With additional planning and other powers, new super-councils will also have a vital role in meeting housing need.

Ensuring everyone has a decent, warm and affordable home is a shared responsibility. Housing associations are stepping up to build more homes.

* Cameron Watt is chief executive of the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations

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