Radical Proposals Unveiled In Ulster Housing Review

More new houses and increased powers for planners and the Housing Executive were among the radical proposals unveiled by Sir John Semple. Sir John, the former head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, revealed his final report on the provision of affordable housing yesterday.

And the eagerly anticipated review, which looks at all aspects of the local housing market, had a few surprises. The key findings of the 71-page document include a review of house building targets which he claimed “may be too low”, the streamlining of the planning process, fast-tracking of important housing developments and better use of available land, including greenfield sites.

The wide-ranging review also called for the Government to impose targets on builders to include social housing in high profile schemes. One example of this is the Titanic Development, which Sir John said should comprise of 20% affordable housing “of which a significant element should be social housing”.

Other recommendations included the policing of “inappropriate developments” such as “garden grabbing”, “town cramming” and the “greying” of towns.

Sir John said the Department of Regional Development should complete its review of the Regional Development Strategy Housing Requirement 1998-2015 currently set at 208,000 and publish it “as soon as possible”, while calling for a “firm funding commitment” from the Government to ensure the target of 2,000 new social houses a year are built.

He also called for stamp duty land tax to be waived on houses bought through the Co-Ownership Scheme. Other key recommendations include increased powers for the Housing Executive when it comes to the acquisition and disposal of land.

Sir John’s report, which pooled research from local experts and those at UK universities, was aimed at developing a strategy to improve housing choice for all.

Social Development Minister David Hanson praising Sir John’s work, said: ” I hope that, when a local minister assumes responsibility for these issues, this valuable work will help inform the development of policy. The challenge for the new Executive will be to bring in changes that will extend housing choice for everyone.”