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Sunday, July 3, 2022

Housing Executive points system is ‘outdated and archaic’ – Cllr Watton

The social housing situation in Coleraine and the surrounding areas has been described as ‘dismal’ by a local councillor.

PUP Councillor Russell Watton also called the Northern Ireland Housing Executive’s (NIHE) points system as ‘outdated and archaic’.

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The Coleraine councillor spoke out as Causeway Coast & Glens Council received a deputation from Housing Executive Chief Executive, Grainia Long and her team.

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The presentation by Ms Long showed the demand for social housing in the borough had increased in 2020.

In March 2021 there were 3,330 applicants on the waiting list for Causeway Coast & Glens Council area with 1,753 in housing stress. There were 390 allocations over the year.

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The new build programme had completed 98 new social homes with a further 154 on site. 

Councillor Russell Watton said: “The vast majority of my time as a councillor is spent on housing issues. The situation is much worse now than it was when I became a councillor seven years ago.

“There’s something not right and something’s not working. There’s 1,000 homes needed over the next five years and only 120 on board. The gap is constantly widening, I do not know where we are going from here.

“We have basically an outdated, archaic points system which seems to benefit those who are not working families, working families seem to be at the bottom of the pile. I have noticed recently that problem families are being brought in from other areas, moving the problem again. 

“I have someone sitting in Portstewart on 168 points, it used to be you would get a house on 110/120 points. That’s gone and the local issue of local people in local houses is out the window too.”

Councillor Watton brought up the discrepancy in the number of houses being built in Causeway Coast and Glens compared to the Derry and Strabane Council area. 

A presentation by Ms Long to the Derry City and Strabane council at the start of September showed that ​​in 2020/21 there were 207 new social homes completed with 1,082 new social homes currently on-site and that the 2021/24 Social Housing Development Plan has 1,797 (gross) new social housing units programmed. 

In comparison the Housing Executive’s three year Social Housing Development Programme (SHDP) has just 221 housing units planned for the Causeway Coast & Glens area. 

The PUP councillor said: “I note in Derry and Strabane with a similar population they are building three times as many houses, why is that?

“Is it the availability of land or is it a fault politically, is it the fault of everybody in this chamber that we aren’t getting the same as they are getting there?

“All in all I have to say I can’t see any movement and it’s a dismal outlook for two or three years. To say it’s going to be challenging would be an understatement.

“The Northern Ireland Housing Executive can now take loans to buy houses, they would need to be doing it brave and quick because in two or three years time it’s going to be worse, it’s an absolute disaster and local government and central government need to catch themselves on. 

Responding Ms Long said: “We have to be realistic of the challenge but there are solutions to these problems. They aren’t simple and they will take time and despite the challenges I am extremely optimistic.

“In terms of local focus it is the case that some areas can appear, when you break the figures down to a council by council basis, it can sometimes look like some councils are building more but that will tend to be on a year by year basis.

“You can take it from me that our commitment to this council is very much one that we understand the challenges and we wouldn’t be here otherwise and it is very much our intention that we will build as much as we can.”

Calling the social housing situation in Coleraine ‘a disaster’, Councillor Watton added: “Perhaps someone in your organisation will explain the discrepancy between here and Strabane. 

“I don’t begrudge them the house because they need them there but we need them here.There is a major discrepancy and I can’t get the answer why. 

“There’s land at Ballysally and you could build 200 houses on it if you wanted to and that would go a fair way to deal with the problem in this town which is getting worse and worse, it’s an absolute disaster.”

DUP Alderman George Duddy agreed with Cllr Watton adding:  “If we look at Ballysally, an estate which, through a lot of hard work, has become a sought after place to reside, yet the Housing Executive sold off a swathe of land too far in the distant past which could have been used for social housing. 

“As Cllr Watton has said, there is a large swathe of land that could be built on and given the need in the local area here, it is disappointing and it is quite frustrating for those who approach you for accommodation that it isn’t available and there doesn’t seem to be anything in the pipeline in your Strategic Report with regards to using that piece of land in Ballysally.

“It’s not for the first time that land in Ballysally has been mentioned. It has been talked about and discussed in here for a number of years.

“Grainia,  I think you should come back to the local DEA councillors with regards why that has been left and not looked at for redevelopment for social housing given the need in the area.

“In regards to Derry City and Strabane, a, area  I travel to frequently, they have been building there for years. It’s not just recent times, they have been building and building there for years, yet this part of the world is sadly lacking in houses so I would like a response to that in the coming weeks.

Ms Long confirmed to both Councillor Watton and Alderman Duddy that she would be ‘very happy to submit a written response to you about the issues raised.’

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