Housing: Amenities

Regional Development – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 28th May 2012.

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Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP 3:00 pm, 28th May 2012

1. asked the Minister for Regional Development what steps are being taken to ensure that residents purchasing homes with the benefit of surety bonds under the Private Streets (NI) Order 1980, the Water and Sewerage Services (NI) Order 2006 and preceding legislation, have those services adopted within a reasonable time. (AQO 2061/11-15)

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy UUP

Roads Service and NI Water have advised that they continue to work closely with developers during the construction of roads and sewers within new housing developments. Officials inspect the work at key stages and process requests for bond reductions and preliminary certificates promptly, in order to facilitate progress towards final adoption of a development.

In normal circumstances, the pace of that process is generally driven by the developer’s progress on site. However, in cases where the developer does not complete the street works or sewers as agreed, or if the works are not proceeding at an appropriate pace, officials will initially seek to negotiate with the developer, or other responsible party, to get the necessary work completed. If that is not successful, enforcement action is initiated and, if the developer fails to act, Roads Service and NI Water make arrangements to access the bond moneys and instruct their own contractors to carry out the necessary works. As soon as those works are complete, the road and sewers become adopted and are then maintained as part of the public road and sewerage network.

The Member will also be aware of the inquiry into unadopted roads which is being taken forward by the Committee for Regional Development. My Department has provided written and verbal evidence to the inquiry, awaits receipt of the report with interest and will give careful consideration to its recommendations.

I should say that my Department is broadly content with the current private streets legislation. It provides a good balance, reconciling the responsibilities of the Department with those of developers and house buyers, and those arrangements work well in the majority of cases. For example, in the last five years, some 260 miles of road have been adopted. However, officials also acknowledge that it would be possible to give added protection to homebuyers through other measures, albeit that there would be practical and financial implications for developers and homebuyers that would need to be carefully considered, especially in the current economic circumstances.

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Minister for his response. Given that, in some cases, surety bonds are outstanding for between 10 and 20 years on numerous developments in my constituency, what guarantees can the Minister give that enforcement action will be prioritised in such cases, and that the value of the surety meets the value of the work that remains outstanding?

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy UUP

I am grateful to the Member for her supplementary question. She has taken particular interest in this matter. I recall the Assembly debate that we recently had on it. I am pleased to inform the Member that substantial progress continues to be made, particularly in her own area, Strangford. There are recently adopted developments and those which are to be adopted shortly in the near future. There are always some contentious sites, and my Department and NI Water will continue to work at them. Clearly, those that stretch into a period of years are unacceptable, and we need to see a resolution of those matters as quickly as possible. I assure the Member that I am as keen to see that as any Member of the House.

Photo of Mike Nesbitt Mike Nesbitt UUP

The Minister mentioned “an appropriate pace” of activity by developers. Is the Minister content that “appropriate pace” can be easily defined?

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy UUP

I am grateful to the Member for his supplementary question. There is an issue there. We hope and expect that the works will be completed within one year of the houses being occupied. However, if there is ongoing work further along a development or street, it may be deemed reasonable for a developer to take more than a year to complete the final surfacing. However, as usual, in all these matters, there is a balance to be found. By working with developers, we are seeking to complete those developments as quickly as possible so that the householders can enjoy proper access and proper water and sewerage facilities.

Photo of Dominic Bradley Dominic Bradley Social Democratic and Labour Party

Go raibh maith agat, a Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle. Will the Minister increase the number of staff involved in enforcement in the southern division in order to ensure that action is speedy and efficient?

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy UUP

I thank the Member for his supplementary question. It is not simply a matter of employing more people. By working more smartly and more closely with developers and all the agencies involved, significant progress is possible without adding significantly to the expense of the service. It is my belief that improvements can and perhaps will be made to the service that we are offering. I am hoping for ideas and am looking forward to the recommendations that the Regional Development Committee will bring forward as part of its inquiry, and I will listen closely to those. However, I also have some ideas of my own.

We also have to bear in mind that simply increasing the costs to developers will likely lead to the costs being put back onto potential home buyers. With the housing market in its current state, I am not sure that that would be logical or very sensible. All in all, there are a number of factors that need to be given careful consideration.

Photo of Anna Lo Anna Lo Alliance

I have received a number of complaints from my constituents in Brooke Hall about problems with sewage and unfinished pavements and roads, and the residents have been there for five years now. Can the Minister please do something to enable the adoption process to go ahead so that the facilities and homes can be enjoyed by the residents?

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy UUP

I am grateful to the Member for her supplementary question. I agree that five years is unacceptable. If she furnishes me with the details, I will be happy to investigate to see if we can make progress.