29/08/2002

Overspend claims on housing are 'nonsense' says Dodds

Claims that housing in Northern Ireland is over funded to the tune of £95 million have been roundly dismissed by the Minister for Social Development as "nonsense".

The figures were contained in a leaked report indicating over spending in a number of areas within the executive.

Social Development Minister Nigel Dodds pointed to the recently published Housing Executive’s Annual Report for 2001/2002 which he said made the case for more funding to be released to tackle a growing housing problem.

“If ever evidence was required to confirm that more, not less, money is needed for housing, this report provides it. The claim that the housing budget is over-provided is totally unfounded," he said.

“As this report outlines, we are working against a background of increasing numbers of homeless people, a rising waiting list for social housing and a substantial number of unfit homes. Among the essential programmes we need to drive forward, are the north Belfast strategy and measures to tackle the scourge of fuel poverty.

The SDLP's Housing Spokesman Eamonn O’Neill broadly agreed, describing the figure as "an unrealistic representation".

However, the South Down assembly member said figures detailing an overspend in public authority housing indicates a need to re-examine the future of public housing.

Mr O’Neill said “It is clear that there is a need for more money to be allocated for a substantiated, long-term investment in public housing. We do not want to end up in similar circumstances to England whose housing stock is well below standard.

He added: "Any claim that too much money is being spent is simply ridiculous - if so, why do the lists of people needing homes continue to grow every year?”

However, Sinn Féin's Social Development Spokesperson Mary Nelis criticised the Minister and accused him of "failing to deliver value for money in tackling the housing crisis".

Ms Nelis said: "We are not building enough social public housing and there is a growing problem of waiting lists and homelessness. The failure of Nigel Dodds to deliver value for money is putting at risk the money that is needed to tackle the housing crisis.

"If we look at some of the emerging detail about the housing programme run by the department there is evidence that our unit costs are spiralling out of control. If departments are poorly managed then it out their budgets under threat."

(GMcG)

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