Alliance MLA and Housing Spokesperson Trevor Lunn has said the housing market in Northern Ireland needs the Assembly to be sitting to address a range of key housing problems.
Trevor Lunn said: “I believe the provision of safe affordable housing is a basic human right. Housing, particularly in the public sector, has played a major role in the story of Northern Ireland, whether in relation to allocations or where it is provided.
“Recently, I sponsored an important seminar at Stormont examining a report from the Forum for a Better Housing Market NI. Forum members are drawn from the private and public housing markets and bring many years of experience to the development of the report.
“When considering how to create a more integrated, sustainable housing market, the Forum identified four priority areas: the planning system, housing pipeline, financing housing related infrastructure and the skills gap.
“Overall, it is agreed that the planning process takes too long, with the average processing time for major applications taking 59 weeks, compared to the target of 30. The Forum recommends streamlining the pre-application process and also placing time bound obligations on applicants and statutory consultees regarding the provision of additional information and responses to consultation.
“The Forum recommends changing the funding model for social housing, with government moving to three year financial commitments to enable housing associations to plan strategically in line with key housing needs indicators.
“A key factor constraining housing development in around 70 towns across Northern Ireland is the inability of the water and sewerage infrastructure to meet the additional capacity required. The Forum recommends that future housing needs assessments for both private and public sector housing should consider these infrastructure requirements, and how they should be funded.
“The lack of skills in construction is well known but it appears that the age profile of people in the industry is changing, it is worrying that the average age is increasing as younger tradesmen find opportunity elsewhere. Investment is needed in apprenticeships and measures to make careers in this area more appealing through our schools and colleges.
“In relation to public sector housing, the statistics are stark and not improving with around 36000 on the NIHE housing list, against a total completion of 7100 new builds (2017-18) of which only 1214 were social housing. In 2017, public consultation was undertaken on public housing allocations, but this cannot be progressed without a Housing Minister in place.
“Unfortunately, without a functioning Assembly and Executive in place there is only limited scope for civil servants to implement recommendations from this report. As we approach 1000 days without the Assembly sitting, the impacts of this standstill are increasing every day.”