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New report calls for industry overhaul to tackle housing deficit

David Little, chair of the Forum for a Better Housing Market, with Jim McCooe, Lloyds Banking Group ambassador for Northern Ireland

The north must overhaul its planning process, reverse years of underinvestment in infrastructure and tackle a shortage of skills if it is to solve its current housing shortage, according to a new report.

The document, ‘Creating a More Effective and Sustainable Housing Development Model for Northern Ireland', was launched by the Forum for a Better Housing Market NI at an event at Stormont yesterday.

Produced with support from Lloyds Banking Group, it aims to understand the barriers to housing development in the north and make recommendations on how it can be made more efficient and sustainable.

Headline findings include developers struggling to find suitable sites, access to finance, a shortage of skilled staff in planning departments creating delays processing planning applications and long-term underinvestment in infrastructure like roads and sewage systems.

It also flagged a skills crisis in the housebuilding sector caused by a lack of recruitment to offset an ageing workforce and emigration.

The report, based on research undertaken by Ulster University, offers recommendations focusing on four main themes: building a better planning system, delivering a more sustainable housing pipeline, addressing the skills gap and financing infrastructure.

Solutions include new processes to speed up planning applications, reform of the way housing associations are funded, investment in housebuilding apprenticeships and a review of how infrastructure projects are delivered.

David Little, chair of the forum's steering group and a past chair of the Chartered Institute of Building in Ireland, said: “The purpose of this report is to investigate the fundamental issues facing Northern Ireland's housing market and advance evidence-based policies that can provide solutions.

“It's a very thorough piece of research that I hope will help inform the region's future housing policy to ensure that the people of Northern Ireland can access the level of housing they deserve for generations to come.

“We want to work with government, local councils, private developers and social housing providers to help address some of the challenges facing the sector and create a housing market that works for everyone.”

The report comes after data released by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors showed house prices are rising more quickly in Northern Ireland than the rest of the UK, partly because supply is not keeping up with demand.

Meanwhile, Belfast-based homelessness charity The Simon Community NI says a shortage of affordable housing is a key factor in homelessness. Department for Communities' statistics show there were 11,877 homeless households in 2017-2018.

The data also showed that in March 2018 there were 36,198 applicants on the social housing waiting list, of which 24,148 were deemed to be in ‘housing stress'.

Jim McCooe, Lloyds Banking group ambassador for Northern Ireland, said: “This report provides valuable insight into the crucial issue of housing supply in Northern Ireland.

“The recommendations set out in the report should be considered as part of ongoing efforts to improve housing provision for everyone in Northern Ireland.”

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