Nelson McCausland has been a member of Northern Ireland’s Legislative Assembly since 2003, and now holds the office of Minister for Social Development. This month he talks Premier Construction through developments in the Northern Ireland social housing sector:
“In just a few short months as Minister for Social Development, it is already clear to me that housing will be a central theme for my Department in the coming years as we seek to tackle disadvantage and build stronger, more sustainable communities.
“I have already identified that we must do more to increase the quality of housing, not just the quantity. I have visited a number of inner city housing schemes in Londonderry and Belfast in the past weeks to see for myself what needs to be done to increase the standard of our homes. Whilst we have undoubtedly made significant progress reducing unfitness levels in recent years, it is clear that more needs to be done.
“We must not let empty homes destabilise and blight communities by attracting anti-social behaviour as opposed to prospective new tenants. We are already bringing more than 50 empty homes in Antrim back into use and I want to see this replicated in other communities where we must be more imaginative in how we address the issue of empty homes.
“In terms of refurbishing existing homes, I am pleased to see that a community in Londonderry has already been imaginative in seeking to have much needed improvement work on their homes carried out by a new landlord. Fifty five homes in the Creggan Estate will transfer from Housing Executive ownership to a locally based Housing Association who will improve the homes with their own private finance, saving the public purse an estimated £2.5m that would otherwise have been needed for the Housing Executive to fund the work themselves.
“Whilst private house building has slowed down in recent years, I am pleased that the increased provision of social housing here has gone some way to supporting our construction industry through difficult times. I recently visited a new site in Lisburn where we are building 147 new homes. In Newcastle we have just started another scheme to deliver 130 new homes and the investment in these two sites alone represents a significant boost for the economy here as we seek to once again build our economy. These projects will both sustain existing jobs and offer new opportunities.
“Over the next four years, despite what remains a very challenging economic backdrop, I plan to invest £460m to deliver 6,000 new homes. We will continue to press down on grant rates to make Housing Associations use their own resources much more than ever before. This funding will help protect jobs across the construction industry and wider supply chain, as well of course as helping those in greatest need with a home to call their own. But in supporting those in need, we must be aware that need changes and we must change with it, to make sure our resources are always properly targeted.
“For example, our population continues to grow and the number of households will also grow by 12% between 2008 / 2018. During this same period, the number of people aged 75 and over will increase substantially by 43%. By 2023, 34% of all households will be single person. These changing demographics underline the need not simply for more housing, but for better design and innovation in our housing.
“So, as we slowly emerge from what has been a very difficult period for all those involved in construction, the outlook is more encouraging and the continuing need for well designed, good quality housing remains high. I will do all I can in the coming years to make sure we are best placed to meet that challenge head on.”