Cameron Watt, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations (NIFHA), and Danny Lorimer, NIFHA Communications Officer, attended the second meeting of the All Party Group on housing chaired by Colum Eastwood MLA.
The meeting was well attended with good representation from all of the major partners of the housing sector. Environment Minister Mark H Durkan MLA, Alex Atwood MLA, and Anna Lo MLA were there to hear the sector’s views.
The focus of the discussions was the implications of the transfer of planning powers to the new Local Authorities and how this would impact on the delivery of new homes in Northern Ireland.
Minister Durkan opened proceedings by reiterating his commitment to ensuring that the new localised planning bodies do everything they can to support the delivery of houses in their area.
Esther Christie, Assistant Director of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, spoke on how the Housing Executive will operate within the new community planning structures and how they will work with local authorities to deliver housing investment plans. You can download Esther’s presentation by clicking here.
There were representations from Claire Linney, Head of Community Development for Dungannon & South Tyrone Borough Council, and Keith Sutherland, Urban Development Manager, Belfast City Council.
There were also frustrations expressed by representatives from the private house builders. They said that they wanted to build more homes, and in doing so boost the Northern Ireland economy, but they are currently being held back by the slow and onerous planning process.
Cameron Watt expressed his appreciation for Minister Durkan’s continued commitment to new housing but expressed some concerns about the ineffectiveness of the planning system’s support for new homes.
With the delay in the publication of the Strategic Planning Policy Statement (SPPS) – currently awaiting approval from the NI Executive- there is a danger that the new councils will be commencing their plan-making in a policy vacuum.
Cameron emphasised that the final SPPS needs to promote much stronger policy support for meeting the full range of our housing needs, and provide more robust support for social and affordable housing.,
Also, the first stage of the new Local Development Plans (LDPs) should zone strategic sites to meet our range of housing needs.NIFHA hopes to meet again soon with Minister Durkan to discuss these points in more detail.
Photo: (L-R) Keith Sutherland, Urban Development Manager, Belfast City Council, Claire Linney, Community Development Manager, Dungannon & South Tyrone Borough Council, Colum Eastwood MLA, Chair, NI Assembly All Party Group on Housing, Michael McDonnell, Chief Executive, Helm Housing, and Cameron Watt, Chief Executive, NIFHA.