Pressure On Ritchie Over Social Housing

PRESSURE has been put on Northern Ireland’s Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie to create more social housing in deprived areas such as west Tyrone, after it emerged that the Housing Executive is sitting on £240m of surplus land.

The information came to light via an Assembly Question regarding unused Housing Executive land.

The minister was also challenged to outline what plans she had to utilise such land to meet housing needs in west Tyrone.

Ms Ritchie said that the Housing Executive currently manages undeveloped land valued at £634m. She said that this comprised £133m worth of land to be transferred to Housing Associations for the social housing development programme, and £261m worth to be “retained for future housing use”.

West Tyrone Sinn Fein MLA Claire McGill – who asked the question – was also told that this land, if not required, could be made available.

The minister also revealed a further £240m worth of land, which she described as being “surplus” to social housing need, may be disposed of. She said that the “method and timing of disposal of the majority of these sites” was presently under consideration.

DUP MLA for West Tyrone Tom Buchanan urged Ms Ritchie to address the problem of housing shortages in west Tyrone – where there was a need for more social housing – something that was made clear to him on a weekly basis given the number of constituents seeking homes.

“The difficulty is that there is no housing stock for these people, and the executive have admitted to that,” he said.

Mr Buchanan pointed to the low turnover of housing, but said he was glad the minister had funds for building over the next three years. However, he said: “My concern is, will the minister be able to get that money spent, and create the housing that is required.”

He urged the minister to press ahead, especially in rural disadvantaged areas, such as west Tyrone, and to create social housing for the people who require it.

“There is no getting away from this,” he said. “So the sooner that Margaret Ritchie acts on this, gets the housing up, the better for the people here.”

The DUP MLA conceded that the new minister needed time to get settled in, but he said he thought “sufficient time had passed”.

He added: “It is up to her now to make the decisions and to ensure that a percentage of this housing that is planned is coming to the west, because we don’t want to see it any further disadvanted. We want to see equality.”

A spokesman for the Department of Social Development said: “The minister is considering all such requests and bids from across Northern Ireland and will respond in coming weeks with a major announcement on Housing Budget spend.”