'Time for parties to come together to build the housing we need.'
CIH Northern Ireland policy and practice expert Justin Cartwright takes a look ahead to 2018 and says it's time for politicians to come together to build the homes the region needs.
As the New Year gets underway it’s beneficial to pause and look to the year ahead, and what it is likely to mean for housing in the UK. In other CIH blogs out today, my colleagues give housing professionals a flyover of the political changes – such as new policy announcements and legislative proposals – to look out for in Scotland, Wales and England.
Political change has a meaningful and long-lasting impact on people’s lives. This is particularly true in relation to housing policy – we all know the profound impact it has on people and communities. Especially people who are struggling to keep a roof over their head, or who have no home to call their own.
So it is very unfortunate that Northern Ireland has no government, and hasn’t had one for nearly a year – no vehicle to facilitate the changes that people rely upon – with the NI Executive collapsed following the overspend of an incentive scheme to generate heat from renewable sources.
One of the final acts of the former Executive was to publish its draft programme for government (PfG) covering the period 2016-2021. The PfG set a target to provide 9,600 social homes and 3,750 shared equity homes over the five year period.
Averaging 1,920 social homes per annum, this was a welcome target in that it was ambitious; this level of output has been achieved only once in the past seven years. It reflects the Housing Executive’s recommendation of an annual target of 2,000 new social homes, based on modelling. The Department for Communities (DfC) back-loaded the target, first aiming for 1,600 starts in 2016/17 and 2,000 in 2017/18.
In the absence of government, DfC is working to the draft PfG. The 2016/17 target was met, but this year’s target has, very unfortunately, been reduced to 1,750 due to the political situation; the interim departmental budget was not confirmed until May, causing delays in confirmation of the development programme. Furthermore, while DfC still hopes to deliver the 9,600 social homes by 2021, the current working target is 7,600.
It’s clear that we need our Assembly back up and running early this year to achieve certainty and the level of housebuilding that Northern Ireland desperately needs. Several deadlines for the region’s parties to agree a deal to restore power-sharing were missed during 2017, and disagreement between the parties remains on equality issues such as the Irish language and marriage equality.
Housing professionals also need a government in place to implement proposed changes that are outstanding. These include changes to make private rented accommodation a more attractive housing option, and changes to the way social homes are allocated to make the process simpler, fairer and more transparent.
Despite the absence of government, we haven’t been idle in our influencing work at CIH Northern Ireland. During 2017 we worked with PfG officials, MPs and the All Party Group on Housing around our research and influencing work. We will continue to do so in 2018 – we are very excited to be shortly announcing a major new project for housing in Northern Ireland.
Every cloud has a silver lining – in Northern Ireland’s case, it must be said that housing continues to enjoy a relatively high priority given to housing investment, as well as cross-party support for new social housing. It’s time now for the parties to come together and form government, to ensure we achieve the numbers of new homes that people need.
Justin Cartwright is policy and public affairs manager at CIH Northern Ireland.