3. asked the Minister for Social Development to confirm how much the Northern Ireland Housing Executive has been required to save from its budget for 2000-01 in order to facilitate the budget shortfall caused by the delay in the sale of the port of Belfast and whether he has been informed about how the Northern Ireland Housing Executive intends to fund the required savings. (AQO 23/99)
The Member is referring to the present in-year reduction to the Housing Executive’s expenditure to facilitate the non-sale of the port of Belfast. This year, 1999-2000, the Housing Executive has had to defer schemes to the value of £3 million. These are deferrals, and the £3 million will be reinstated once the sale of the port of Belfast proceeds.
Is the Minister aware that in this year the Housing Executive has already delayed the implementation of the redevelopment area in Connswater and that, as a result, many people who should have been given priority to the houses built to facilitate them will not be able to move into those houses? They will be allocated to people from outside the area. The blight on the area is going to be exacerbated by the delay in the Housing Executive fulfilling its promises, on the basis of the budget shortfall. Will the Minister take the matter up with the chief executive to ensure that those promises are fulfilled?
The assessment of the need to carry out a redevelopment scheme and the time at which any such scheme is undertaken is a matter for the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and not for me, directly. I do know that the chief executive has advised that plans for the redevelopment of the Mersey Street/Connswater area are well advanced, and that, subject to financial provision, this project should begin in the next financial year. He has confirmed that the Housing Executive remains totally committed to that area and to ensuring decent and good housing as soon as possible. I will be meeting the chief executive later this week, and I will draw these matters to his attention. I should point out that as this relates to the sale of the port of Belfast, the matter falls within the Department for Regional Development.
I should add that on 12 May 1998 when the Chancellor announced the £315 million package of spending measures and tax reliefs to bolster Northern Ireland’s economic future, some of us, who were wearing a different hat at that time, did point out that this money did not come without strings attached. Whilst he announced where the money might go, he left in the small print the question of where it was going to be found. Unfortunately we are now paying for that in terms of some of the deferrals that we are seeing.
The issue of rent increases will be considered in due course. The income for next year for the Housing Executive is presently under consideration. I agree that increases need to be kept as close as possible to the rate of inflation. Departments have come to this issue regarding the regional rate for domestic and non-domestic use fairly late in the cycle, and therefore our room for manoeuvre this year is somewhat limited. I will be laying down a very strong marker that in future years, under devolution, I would hope that any rent increases should be pegged as tightly as possible to inflation.