Belfast Telegraph

Rules may help crisis on homes

By Cameron Watt

With 22,000 households in housing stress, there is great urgency to build more social homes. In response, this year, housing associations are aiming to increase delivery by 65% (from 1,300 to 2,000 homes). However, getting hold of suitable land is a major barrier.

Last week, ministers Mark H Durkan and Nelson McCausland published proposals for 'developer contributions'.

Planning policy already states that private housebuilders should include social housing in larger developments, where a need is identified.

The proposals should help make this a reality, with developers expected to provide some social and/or affordable (Co-ownership) homes in schemes of five dwellings or more.

While some may claim this policy will stifle the recovery in private house-building, this should not happen. Planning permissions are outstanding for many thousands of homes that will be exempt from these requirements.

The new system will also only require social homes where this is viable, ensuring reasonable returns for developers.

Similar systems are well established in Britain and the Republic. In England, more than half of social and affordable homes are built on sites with these planning conditions.

Although our market offers less potential, even relatively few extra social homes secured via developer contributions can significantly contribute to meeting housing need.

Successfully negotiating these agreements is not easy; planners will need training and support. Policy must be robust – especially for the required homes to be provided on-site.

Developers will seek to pay commuted sums, rather than provide actual homes, but this would be much less effective.

Using new planning powers to meet the range of housing needs will be one of our new councils' biggest challenges.

While no panacea, developer contributions can be an important tool for planners to help fulfil the right of every citizen to a decent, affordable home.

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

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