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British-Irish Council: Housing

Part of Ministerial Statement – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 10:30 am on 19th January 2016.

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Photo of Lord Maurice Morrow Lord Maurice Morrow DUP 10:30 am, 19th January 2016

At the outset, I should explain that I am reporting on a meeting that I did not attend. Furthermore, I apologise for the lateness of the statement getting to the Business Office.

In compliance with the requirements of section 52C of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and of Standing Order 18 of the Northern Ireland Assembly, I wish to make the following report on the fourth meeting of the British-Irish Council (BIC) housing work stream, which was held in Edinburgh on 4 November 2015. The report has been agreed by and is being made on behalf of junior Minister McCann, who accompanied my predecessor, Mervyn Storey, at the meeting.

The British-Irish Council identified housing as a new work stream at its summit in Cardiff in February 2009. Previous Ministers Margaret Ritchie, Alex Attwood and Nelson McCausland subsequently chaired the first three ministerial housing work stream meetings at the Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle, County Down in December 2009; St Mary's College, Belfast in February 2011; and at the Department for Communities and Local Government, Eland House, London in October 2013.

Minister Storey chaired a fourth ministerial meeting, which was hosted by Margaret Burgess MSP on behalf of the Scottish Government in Edinburgh and was attended by representatives from all the jurisdictions. The UK Government were represented by Peter Schofield, director-general for housing and planning. The Irish Government were represented by Paudie Coffey TD, Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. The Scottish Government were represented by Margaret Burgess MSP, Minister for Housing and Welfare. The Welsh Government were represented by Lesley Griffiths AM, Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty. The Jersey Government were represented by Deputy Anne Pryke, Minister for Housing. The States of Guernsey were represented by Mike Hadley, deputy Minister in the Housing Department. The Isle of Man Government were represented by the honourable Juan Watterson MHK, Minister for Home Affairs. Minister Storey co-chaired the meeting alongside junior Minister McCann. Together, they represented the Northern Ireland Executive.

Ministers welcomed a presentation by John McCord from the Department for Social Development, Northern Ireland, on the report entitled 'Innovative Policy Interventions to Fund Housing Initiatives', which sets out the range of policies that are being adopted across all BIC member Administrations to fund housing provision. Ministers noted the enormous impact that the global economic downturn has had on the housing market and on the delivery of housing across all BIC Administrations. Many citizens had seen the value of their homes depreciate, resulting in their facing negative equity. Governments, too, had faced significantly reduced capital budgets and a rapidly contracted development industry, at the same time facing increased need as a result of demand outstripping supply. That combination of factors was having an adverse effect on the number of new social and affordable homes being built in the rental and private-rental sectors, as well as on the number of homes coming to the market for private sale.

Governments across the BIC member Administrations have developed policies to address that unprecedented situation. Ministers discussed the range of innovative solutions developed across member Administrations to address the unique difficulties faced by each and how those are assisting public, voluntary and private housing providers to access new and alternative funding mechanisms. Discussions included feedback from each Administration on their experience of the effects of their policy interventions and of the financial instruments used to increase the housing supply and improve the standards of the existing housing stock.

Ministers also received a presentation from Alister Steele MBE from Castle Rock Edinvar Housing Association on partnership-working, which set out how the sector in Scotland has delivered by developing the relationship between government, the local authority, housing associations and stakeholders to deliver projects on the ground.

Ministers welcomed the updated housing directory, which provides details of good practice across Administrations.

Ministers requested that BIC member Administrations explore the possibility of having a common set of definitions to enable the collection and collation of common data sets to facilitate benchmarking. Ministers have tasked the group with examining how housing policy can continue to innovate to deliver increased housing supply through alternative funding mechanisms and collaborative relationships, as well as with examining housing policy's role in delivering wider regeneration and social value goals, such as inclusive communities, economic development and social enterprises. They have asked that the work sector look to provide a full report on the impact and future of innovative policy interventions to increase housing supply and an initial report on the possible role that housing policy can fulfil in delivering wider government regeneration and social value goals.

Ministers agreed that the next ministerial meeting will take place in Jersey, on a date to be confirmed.