04/02/2011

Public Housing Cuts 'Will Hit Builders'

The amount of funding available for public housing in NI was discussed this week as the NI Social Development Minister, Alex Attwood met with housing, construction and charity representatives to discuss the draft housing budget.

The main focus was the fact that a 30% reduction in the housing budget has to be made over the next four years, which will lead to a significant reduction in the number of new builds.

He heard how the budget, if not improved, would create further hardship for the construction industry and hit jobs as he met with representatives from the Construction Employers Federation, Housing Rights Service, Simon Community, Co Ownership and National House Building Council in the Chartered Institute of Housing in Belfast.

Speaking after the meeting Minister Attwood said: "There is no disguising the fact this is not a good budget for the future of social housing.

"Even in this financial climate I have managed to protect the most vulnerable in our society, ring fencing resources to tackle fuel poverty and our Supporting People Programme to help independent living," he said, noting that the new build programme has in effect been cut by almost £300m.

"Over the next four years and if this is not reversed, much of the excellent work we have done in recent years in providing record numbers of new homes will not be matched," he said.

Also commenting, South Belfast Sinn Fein MLA Alex Maskey has commended all of those who took part believed that the proposed Planning bill can be improved on and that it must reflect the needs of local communities.

He said: "Our party was represented by my the MLA Cathal Boylan who is currently the Chairperson of the Assembly's Environment Committee.
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"I had asked Cathal to attend the meeting so that he could give those present a run down of the Planning Bill's progress through the Assembly.

"I also believe that it was extremely useful for him to hear the views of residents groups from south Belfast. Indeed, he took on board a number of suggestions which were made by those present at the meeting."

"The Bill has to be shaped to reflect the needs of local communities and it is my firm belief that the proposed Planning Bill, while much better than what existed previously, can be improved upon," he concluded.

Meanwhile, Alex Attwood has also just announced that, on average, the increase in NI Housing Executive rents next year will be less than £2.

The average weekly rent increase for tenants will be 3.75%, well below the 4.8% inflation rate.

This compares with an above inflation rise in England, where rents will go up by a figure, which is 80% more than that being applied now in Northern Ireland, and well above the rate of inflation.

Alex Attwood said: "There is a compelling reason to keep rent increases below the rate of inflation. The cost of living, the rate of inflation, rise in commodity and oil prices and all the other prevailing economic conditions means that keeping rent increases lower is essential.

"A key priority for me is protecting the most vulnerable in society. Keeping rent increases well below the rate of inflation will help do that, especially in tough economic times, where every penny counts for households," he said, noting that close to 80% of Housing Executive tenants have their rent paid in full or in part by Housing Benefit.

"For those who do pay their rent, this decision should help families and individuals in the future."

(BMcC/GK)

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