Belfast Telegraph

Fair share vital for NI, say experts

By Clare Weir

Northern Ireland needs to benefit from its fair share of new spending aimed at helping stimulate housebuilding and infrastructure projects announced in the Budget, according to industry experts.

Chancellor George Osborne yesterday announced a 'Help to Buy' shared equity scheme that will allow all first-time buyers to get a 20% interest-free government loan towards deposits, and a mortgage guarantee scheme that should help home buyers to access cheaper mortgages.

He also revealed funding for 15,000 more social and affordable homes, support for 'build to rent' schemes and increasing Right to Buy discounts for social tenants.

If and how each of these initiatives will be implemented in Northern Ireland has still to be clarified although the construction sector here will benefit from a £94m share of a £3bn additional infrastructure spend also announced by Mr Osborne.

The managing director of Lagan Homes, Conor Mulligan, said the mood within the industry was positive.

"A capital infrastructure injection was the right thing to do.

"In Northern Ireland we seem to have a habit of stalling and stopping large projects so it is important that we commence projects and get them on the ground as soon as possible.

"The new-buy and first-buy schemes are extensions of previous schemes which, for whatever reason, Northern Ireland opted out of. Our taxpayers funded these schemes but did not get the benefit. Reports from large builders in England are all about the success of these schemes and how they are posting large returns – this time, we need to get on board. The banks need to be enthusiastic and quick to act and ready to loan. We need to make sure that Northern Ireland PLC is open for business."

The Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations also challenged the Northern Ireland Executive to take decisive action.

"We now need the Executive to take decisive concerted action to maximise house building, such as releasing more public land, speeding the planning process and tackling our gold-plating of EU procurement rules," NIFHA chief Cameron Watt said.

"This action is vital to save our remaining construction firms, achieve the Programme for Government's target of 8,000 new social and affordable homes by 2015, and deliver the 11,000 new homes Northern Ireland needs annually to meet housing need."

John Armstrong, head of the Construction Employers Federation, said: "Once again, the Chancellor has recognised the overriding need to invest in infrastructure and public buildings in order to grow the economy both in the short term and more importantly, in the long term.

"Northern Ireland will get its share of the additional £3bn per year for infrastructure from 2015 should the next Government honour these spending commitments."

Belfast Telegraph