Housing Implementation Plan “will now be submitted for Executive Committee approval..”

The BBC reports the statement in the Northern Ireland Assembly by the Social Development minister, the SDLP’s Margaret Ritchie, outlining a new housing strategy. The bullet points.

The Minister outlined plans to:
Build more homes- at least 5,250 in the next 3 years;
Make the existing co-ownership scheme more attractive for first time buyers including the immediate abolition of house value limits;
Bring forward proposals to establish a not for profit Mortgage Rescue Scheme;
Allow existing social housing tenants the chance to buy a stake in their homes;
Bring empty homes back into use through the development of an Empty Homes Strategy;
Together with the Minister of the Environment, introduce a Developers Contribution requiring future developments to include a proportion of homes for social and affordable housing; and
A new code for sustainable housing and a new procurement strategy that will increase the energy efficiency of new social houses whilst driving costs down.

Other points of interest

The Minister also outlined exciting new plans for the former Grosvenor Barracks Military Base in Enniskillen. “My Department will undertake a £40million regeneration project on the site of the former Military Base there. We will build nearly 350 mixed tenure homes that will solve the social housing crisis in Enniskillen for the next 5 years. As part of this development we will deliver the first Eco-village in the North, introducing a new ethos in the design process, setting new standards of construction and bringing benefits to the environment and residents alike.”

The notes to the statement point out that the Implementation Plan for the strategy, which intends to “take forward 74 of the 80 recommendations” from the Semple Report will now go to the Executive for approval.

Those notes

Notes to Editors:

There are currently over 38,000 people on the waiting list here for social housing. Over 20,000 of them are assessed as being in ‘Housing Stress’ and over 9,000 are officially homeless.

Sir John Semple published a Review into Affordable Housing in Spring 2007. It included 80 recommendations across a wide range of Government Departments.

The Minister has prepared an Implementation Plan in response to the Semple Report that will now be submitted for Executive Committee approval. This Implementation Plan includes details of when, how and what Department will take forward 74 of the 80 recommendations that have been assessed a suitable.

The Minister received a report from Professor Alastair Adair, who chaired a panel of 17 Housing Experts to report on Semple in light of the changing state of the housing market here.

The Minister also commissioned Baroness Margaret Ford, Formerly Chair of English Partnerships, to look at a number of funding and planning issues in the delivery of social housing in Northern Ireland.

The proposals include abolishing the capital value limits that apply to the existing co-ownership scheme and making it easier for co-ownership applicants to staircase out at lower rates from April this year. From April next year the Minister wants to allow some applicants to enter the scheme with as little as a 25% stake, but new eligibility criteria need to be established.

The Minister also agreed to explore a Not for Profit Mortgage Rescue scheme to help those who are in danger of being repossessed.

The existing house sales scheme will be extended from November 2009 to allow existing social tenants the chance to buy a stake in their home when they can not afford to buy it all in one swoop.

From 1 April a new Code for Sustainable Homes will be applied to all new social houses to make them more energy efficient and environmentally friendly both in construction and occupation. This new code will mean a house built after April 2008 will be 25% more energy efficient than one built juts two years ago.

A new Procurement Strategy will also be published in April 2008 to encourage Housing Associations to form procurement Groups and realise up to 10% savings by increasing their bargaining powers and striking better deals to deliver new social homes. Housing Associations will also be encouraged to make even greater use of private finance and in response to the report from Baroness Ford, the Minister has agreed to reduce grant rates by 10% from April this year. The savings that will be realised through the new procurement strategy and the greater use of private finance will allow more homes to be built from the existing resources.

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  • “Bring empty homes back into use through the development of an Empty Homes Strategy;”

    I wonder how this strategy will fare where it’s in competition with developers ‘assisted’ by ‘silent’ politicians and a planning service unable to conserve. [click on ‘blight’]

  • A fairly impressive plan in terms of clear goals and concrete ideas on how to achieve them. Compare what Ritchie has produced to her ministerial colleague in the Education Department.

  • steve48

    and with one fell swoop Ms Ritchie reduces the housing target by 5,250.

    We were told that the target was 10,000 over five years with Pete Robbingsome announcing 5,250 extra, now Ms Ritchie points out that the 5,250 Pete announced was part of the 10k and would be delivered in 3 years with 4750 in the two years after.

    Smoke and mirrors

    Interesting comments too about Girdwood which may come as a shock to the DUP who promised there would be no houses on the site.

  • joeCanuck

    Totally agree, Chekov.

  • joeCanuck

    There was a verb in there that is completely new to me.
    “staircase out”
    Anyone know the origin and what it means?

  • victor

    Extending the existing House Sales Scheme is a stupid mistake that will totally undermine the benefits of building more than 5,000 new social housing homes.

  • Jo

    I think it means a stepped reduction: 50%-40%-30% in the share of the house which is owned by the tenant with the balance being owned by the co-ownership company.

  • Rory

    Of course it is, Victor and totally contradictatory as well. But again it is the old smoke and mirrors. By reducing and finally eliminating social housing it can be pretended that the need for social housing no longer exists and those even at the lowest end of the market can be conned into continuing to be enslaved to jobs with shit-for-pay in order to pay exorbitant interest on overpriced hovels just in order to keep a roof over their heads.

    But watch this space as they do it with health care. Anyone who doesn’t take the trouble to ensure private health care can’t really be concerned about their health; can’t really be sick or, if they are, don’t deserve treatment. Anyway the private sector needs to take over all those publicly funded hospitals with their staff and facilities for next-to-nothing. This will help to ensure healthier Profit and Loss Accounts and Balance Sheets for their major shareholders which is what politicians mean by “improving the health service”.

  • Interesting comments too about Girdwood which may come as a shock to the DUP who promised there would be no houses on the site.

    Not entirely a shock, at least to this North Belfast resident, as she has been saying for at least three months that she intends to provide social housing on the site. I’m glad to see that Margaret is not intending to allow the DUP to hijack the shared future agenda to stop housing being built because the houses might be largely lived in by Catholics.

    I was also pleased with Margaret’s statement in the Assembly yesterday that she wanted to see housing on the Girdwood site provided on a “shared, equal, basis”. I hope this means offering the housing to people in North Belfast solely on the basis of objective need, without reference to their background, and working with police and other statutory agencies to ensure that paramilitaries are not permitted to turn the area into a single identity community if they intend to try.

  • joeCanuck

    Ah, that makes sense, Jo. Thanks.

  • austin

    ‘I think it means a stepped reduction: 50%-40%-30% in the share of the house which is owned by the tenant with the balance being owned by the co-ownership company.’

    Sorry but I think you’re wrong, Jo, as people living in Co-Ownership house are neither tenants nor are they living in social housing.

    Sammy is right that the houses in Girdwood need to be allocated on the basis of objective need and not political expediency. It is now time to address the dire housing shortage in nationalist areas of North Belfast. Glad that Ritchie is now doing this following the abysmal failure of the Housing Executive to do so.

    Also pleased to see the Village area finally being given the green light to go ahead with redevelopment, particularly after all the hard work done by the Greater Village Regeneration Trust. Ironic that the DUP is attaching themselves to Ritchie’s coat-tails on this one as all the hard graft on this issue has been done by the UUP’s Bob Stoker

  • Screwball

    Frankly put once again Margaret Ritchie shows the rest of the executive how it’s done. She set out her goals and carefully explained how it’s being done. She made sure that only a complete idiot or biggot (which might be the same thing) could disagree with her strategy.

    Compare her performance to that of Minister Ruane or is that Ruin. [keep it civil – edited moderator]

  • J Kelly

    The biggest problem she faces is in delivery in the time period laid out. In Derry I drive past Dove Gardens every day. It was announced five years ago that they were to be demolished and house rebuilt on the site. Dove Gardens were 1960s maisonettes. It took two years to empty them of existing tenants a few months to demolish and ever since its been lying as a waste ground with no sign of any building. There won’t be houses on that site this year.

    So if this is the speed of things when its a NIHE site then unless she works to strip out the red tape from the process her plans will flounder. Politically she needs to ensure that red tape doesn’t trip her up because the last thing she needs is to have to hand money back next year because Pete the Punt will just be waiting to tell her I told you so. These plans could be just enough rope…

  • R Adams

    9000 homeless people seems to be quite large. Has anyone got any comparison with the rest of the UK? And if it is larger, why it’s larger?

    The only documentation I found had 11,000 households in Wales, 122,000 households in England & 40,000 households in Scotland. I’m not sure whether the 9000 in NI means households or not.

  • nineteensixtyseven

    Minister Ritchie proves once again that she is the best in the Executive. We have a housing crisis here and she seems to be delivering the goods! Not quite sure about Right to Buy but the rest seems to be along the right lines.

  • fair_deal

    In terms of wealth re-distribution the right to buy scheme makes sense. Economic vulnerability among lower paid is more acute because of a lack of assets. Also AFAIK a key feeder in the growing wealth gap is appreciation of assets.

  • austin

    ‘In terms of wealth re-distribution the right to buy scheme makes sense’

    In terms of addressing the needs of 38,000 people on the housing waiting lists, it doesn’t make much sense at all.

  • The__Raven

    Very quickly as I dash out the door –

    1. Nevin – the very LAST thing you should be expecting is for the Divisional Planning office to do ANYTHING that will keep, maintain and enhance the architectural heritage of the North Coast. You’re just plain silly. (PS thank you for highlighting this again; it’s not written about enough any more)

    2. Empty homes strategy? Might that include resurrecting many of the tumbledown cottages throughout the countryside to their former subsistence glory, and encouraging the proper and sustainable development of rural areas? Or are we back to “clachans”? Sounds like a developer misnomer for “short townhouses”.

    3. Anyone up for petitioning these Ministers to remind them that they should be saying “Your Department”, instead of “My Department”….?


  • crownesq

    A big plan with many flaws:

    1. where is the money – no cash available except through sale of assets and that is dwindling fast;

    2. the Housing Association will not deliver – never have and never will even with a new procurement strategy and what about the starts they should already have on the ground – ask DSD;

    3. more house sales for sitting tenants may raise cash but will only diminish the social housing stock further;

    4. construction industry predicts that sustainable homes proposals will raise costs which while sensible in the long term will reduce unit starts further;

    5. as market conditions tighten will developers buy into a social housing contribution when they are looking a return on investment – will be fudged as in Ireland or will chase away the developers as most are in it for the quick buck and not to advance social conditions or cohesion; and

    6. finally, where does the body with the greatest experience in social housing i.e. the NI Housing Executive feature in the grand plan – hard to see although it is most likely going to be hampered by government spending cuts that will increase over the next three years as public sector borrowing spirals out of control – time for Mr Robbingsome to explain.

  • Chris Donnelly


    Glad to see your thoughts re the Girdwood objections from the DUP mirror my own- I recall being lambasted by a commenter with an Alliance affiliation for daring to point out that the ‘shared future’ vision was being manipulated in north Belfast in a disgraceful attempt to prevent the housing crisis from being addressed.

    On the programme announced by the Minister, I would think it represents a step in the right direction and would commend Ritchie on her efforts to date, though there are obvious concerns over the deficit between the number of houses Semple identified as needing built and the numbers proposed by the Minister.

    I was particularly glad to hear the Minister announce that the Village area of Belfast would be targeted for new housing, given the appalling state of some homes in the area.

    Any objective assessment of need in the city clearly would have shown this area in need of such a programme- as indeed would such an assessment in north Belfast show the need for adequate measures to address the social housing shortage in nationalist districts.

    One would hope that other Ministers- not least Edwin Poots (re Irish language), would prove themselves capable of acting in such an impartisan, professional manner.

  • Bemused

    Lazy, feckless, work-shy scum continue to enjoy a life of indulgence at the expense of the hard-working taxpayer. ‘Social’ housing my arse. More like anti-social housing. How dare these scum continue to articulate some sort of entitlement to live in geographically desirable areas of Belfast and the wider North all the while refusing to work or behave themselves. An utter waste of my money….

  • stoopy

    ‘and the wider North’

    Obviously Bemused is from the ‘Anti-Margaret’ wing of the SDLP, then….

  • nineteensixtyseven


    More like the Procapitalism party!

  • Crataegus

    It amazes me that the village area is included for redevelopment. This area is attractive to the private sector and private money would regenerate this area anyway.

    The aim should be to provide additional homes and not rebuild what is there or most likely less. So in order to provide these social houses we will be knocking down houses that may become increasingly attractive to young professionals to build less homes for those in need. I suppose the young professionals will just have to buy a house out in Larne and commute to Belfast. Also with 5250 new homes and 9000 homeless we have to ask how many net additional homes in each scheme?

    I hope we are not going to suffer more low density social housing close to the heart of Belfast. A Planning mistake and an urban disaster.

    To build new social housing and be selling off existing is an equation that I cannot comprehend.

    We should also remember that changes in the Building Regulations mean that all new houses are more energy efficient so we should take some of the claims on that front with a pinch of salt.

    On the empty homes strategy, more new social housing off the Crumlin Road yet in Tigers Bay streets of empty dwellings?


    Good post I share your concerns. There is a degree of financial naivety about this. The sums required to redevelop generally are colossal and basically you should not invest public funds in areas that are attracting private interest already.

    Your points regarding Housing associations and Developers are spot on.

  • Danny O’Connor

    thank goodness a start is being made to tackle this situation,I know there is a lot more to be done ,but if Margaret had not fought so hard for her budget increase, there would have been no need for today’s announcement.
    Homelessness is a problem in N.I that has been worsened by divisions caused by the “troubles”,empty homes on one side of the peaceline and people crying out for housing on the other.
    It is not just homelessness that needs to be dealt with,there are large numbers of low income families living in private rented accommodation-because of the unavailability of decent social housing-being fleeced by greedy landlords.

  • The__Raven

    Yeah Danny….that’s great.

    In the meantime, your good friend Mags, there, has not yet announced the next year of funding for the Neighbourhood Renewal programme. A programme, it must be said, that was supposed to be the Crown Jewel of DSD’s social projects for a ten year period.

    And yet here we are. Again. At the end of another budget year. Waiting for next year’s budget. Staff on protective notice. Seems to be a recurring theme in that department….

    Oh yeah, Danno – thank goodness Margaret puts up such a fight for her budget…

  • Danny O’Connor

    As i said in my earlier post ,this is a start.
    This will renew a lot of neighbourhoods,she made no secret that housing would be her number 1 priority,I know of work in larne that is going ahead.I believe that she will make other announcements when the time comes.
    It seems that people are pissed that she is doing a good job-especially as there seems to be so little being done anywhere else.

  • johnkingii

    In response to the statement “streets of empty housing in Tiger’s Bay” this may have been more true 15 years ago but not now. There is still empty homes in Mileriver street, top of Mouncollyer street but these are earmarked for DSD redevelopment. There are empty houses in the hard to let interface of Halliday’s Road and Top of Limestone Road where it joins Hallidays but there has been relative quiet in this area and hopefully this can be rectified. The only other empty homes are in Hogarth street which need either redevellopment or modernisation. To cut to the chase if people are given a decent standard of home and given peace to live in them by all sides there would not be empty homes.

  • The__Raven

    Danny, don’t misrepresent what I said.

    I know of one example, where the key to kicking off an entire Neighbourhood Renewal Programme is a main housing scheme, namely refurbishment of existing social housing.

    Five years this has been held back, and while the scheme was meant to have been kicked off in the past 18 months, the now-arising reason for this hold-off has been a lack of receipts from sales of existing social housing!

    So not only does the “softer” programme get held up, but also the housing scheme too! Where the fuck is logic in that?? So much for being serious about Neighbourhood Renewal!

    Don’t say I’m picking on your Minister. I’m not pissed at her for doing a good job – I’m pissed at her for not being able to continue the one that was started three years ago, that she LOVES to roll out as an example of good practice by “My Department”.

    This isn’t a love-in, mate. Not while people’s jobs are riding on this.

  • Danny O’Connor

    The problems you mention go back between 18 months and 5 years she has been minister for 9 months,she said her no1 priority was housing,I have no doubt that she has others but give the woman a chance,I dont see how you can blame her for 5 years worth of slippage when she has only been minister for a short period of that time,I have no doubt that there will be further statements.

  • The__Raven

    Statement of Accounts, I trust.

    Read it again. After all the other excuses given: “the now-arising reason for this hold-off has been a lack of receipts from sales of existing social housing!”

    Her watch. Not the other fella’s. If she doesn’t want to commit to the programme, pull it now, instead of this shoddy year-in, year-out, “i might be minded to find some money in the budget” joke of a project.

    I’ll pass your “give the woman a chance” comment on to those who are awaiting the outcome of a budget that SHOULD have been prepared in consultation at least four months ago.

  • Danny O’Connor

    dont blame her for the budget that should have been agreed 4 months ago-blame the stitch up that was being proposed,furthermore if you think that there is not enough money in the DSD budget now to deliver all these programmes,you must accept that the previous allocation from DFP in the draft was even less-are you suggesting that she should have agreed the draft budget-i take it that is what you are saying,it is the only way it would have been agreed 4 months ago.I said earlier you will have to give her time,i accept your point on the urgency of the position,but you have to accept that the budget was only passed 2 weeks ago-you must therefore understand that in the absence of an agreed departmental budget there will be uncertainty.

  • elvis parker

    ‘Minister Ritchie proves once again that she is the best in the Executive. We have a housing crisis here and she seems to be delivering the goods!’
    Correction: she seems to be Talking about delivering the goods!

    Will be interested if Peter’s developer friends ask him to but the knockers on the Developers Contribution thing!