Housing Associations

Oral Answers to Questions — Social Development – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:45 pm on 30 September 2002.

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Photo of Mr John Kelly Mr John Kelly Sinn Féin 3:45, 30 September 2002

7. asked the Minister for Social Development to detail, for each of the last 4 years, the grant aid awarded to housing associations for the provision of social housing.

(AQO 218/02)

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Opposition Whip (Commons)

Housing association grants paid to registered housing associations for the provision of new-build social housing over the past four years were £55·9 million in 1998-99; £58·2 million in 1999-2000; £54·8 million in 2000-01 and £54·8 million in 2001-02.

In addition, housing associations attracted private finance of £25·1 million in 1998-99; £35·5 million in 1999-2000; £30 million in 2000-01, and £30 million in 2001-02 into the programme. Had that private finance — around £121 million — not been available, then the equivalent of around 1,800 new houses would not have been provided at no cost to the public purse.

Photo of Mr John Kelly Mr John Kelly Sinn Féin

Notwithstanding the pivotal role that housing associations play in providing social housing, does the Minister agree that the massive increase of around 58% in the building costs of housing associations needs to be examined? Is there a connection between that and the amount of private finance initiative money that they are getting?

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Opposition Whip (Commons)

The general cost of public housing has been measured against the comparative rise in England. Figures were taken from a needs and effectiveness evaluation that was leaked and misinterpreted by members of the press and some Members of the House. There has, indeed, been misplaced and misguided comment on those figures.

Comparisons with the cost of providing new social housing in England are misleading for several reasons. Land costs, especially around Belfast, have risen sharply in recent years. Northern Ireland’s social housing is built to higher standards and lower density.

Of course, my Department is always acutely aware of the need to deliver value for money. It has commissioned detailed research into several issues that have arisen from the evaluation — including the reason why house prices have risen so dramatically — so as to ensure that it gets the best possible value for investment in the housing programmes, as it has done in the past. The review of needs and effectiveness on housing concluded that public spending on housing in Northern Ireland has generally been effective in meeting its objectives and has delivered acceptable value for money. The suggestion that the housing budget is somehow overfunded is completely spurious. I am glad that many people in the Province share that view.

Photo of Dr Joe Hendron Dr Joe Hendron Social Democratic and Labour Party

The Minister and his Department have spent substantial sums of money on social housing. However, in areas such as Greater West Belfast, hundreds of people have been waiting for meaningful consideration of housing, many since March 2000. Has the Minister any plans to increase funding for housing in west Belfast?

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Opposition Whip (Commons)

I can only operate within the budget available to me. Dr Hendron and other Members will have a critical role in that when voting on the Budget in the coming months. I have made pleas before, in the House, outside the House and elsewhere, for increased funding for housing.

With more funding, more houses can be built, not only in west Belfast, but in other areas of housing need. That is why I was so alarmed — indeed, annoyed — at the misreporting and nonsense in the papers recently about the needs and effectiveness evaluation. It made no sense at all. It is simply nonsense to suggest that we are somehow overspending because more has been spent in Northern Ireland than in England on maintenance and housing, especially when billions of pounds are now being invested in England to catch up on the investment that we have made over the years — a tacit admission that we got it right all along.

We must accept that, just as I said in answer to Mr Armstrong that warm homes can have effects on the health budget and educational standards, decent, fit and quality housing can have a wide range of knock-on effects for people’s educational status, health, environmental improvement and so on. It is essential that extra resources be put into housing generally — in west Belfast and other areas of the Province. I will commit myself to doing everything that I possibly can to do that, and I look for the support of Members on that issue.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

Has the Minister any evidence, anecdotal or otherwise, to suggest that one reason why building costs are so high in Northern Ireland is the awful extortion, by members of the Provisional IRA and other paramilitaries, from companies that are trying to provide the social housing that he mentioned?

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Opposition Whip (Commons)

Rising land costs are an issue, especially around Belfast. In other areas of the Province, the scarcity of land at the right price has a knock-on effect on the ability of housing associations to acquire land for new social housing. We compete for that land with the private sector and others. Anything that contributes to higher costs is an additional problem, be it extortion demands by paramilitary groups or whatever.

Our ability to deal with homelessness, longer waiting lists, severe housing need and severe social and economic deprivation is hampered, hindered and set back when, for instance, funding that should be used to tackle those issues must be diverted into buying homes under the special purchase of evacuated dwellings scheme to transfer people threatened out of their homes by paramilitary groups. We are now looking at an underspend of well over £15 million in this year’s budget as a direct result of the Castlereagh break-in, and we know where the responsibility for that lies.