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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

Social housing is ‘high investment priority’ in Northern Ireland – UK Housing Review 2020


Justin Cartwright, CIH’s national director for Northern Ireland, looks at what the UK Housing Review reveals about social housing in the region.

Well, these are strange and serious times we find ourselves in. At a time when I’m exploring new corners of my house to keep the environment exciting, I’m particularly delighted to welcome the launch of CIH’s UK Housing Review 2020 – our annual compendium of performance and financial data about housing.

Few publications in housing are packed with so much analysis and statistics. For us in Northern Ireland’s housing world, the review helpfully covers all four nations of the UK and further afield, while providing accessible comparisons between countries.

Reading through the review, two things jump out at me from the Northern Ireland context.

First, we continue to invest in social housing – table 2.4.9 shows that net housing capital investment here has continued to increase, exceeding £124 million for 2019/20. The gross budget has reached £182 million and includes:

• £146 million for the social housing development programme

• £35 million for co-ownership, and

• £1 million for housing-led regeneration.

It is certainly welcome that social housing continues to be a relatively high investment priority for the Northern Ireland Executive. However, we can’t rest on our laurels considering the record high levels of housing need; the commitment in January that housing will be a specific priority in the Programme for Government going forward was particularly welcomed by the local sector.

Second, we may not have all the housing types and tenures we need. As shown by figure 1.4.4, Northern Ireland is yet to deliver the kind of sub-market rented homes that have featured in Wales and Scotland.

While the Northern Ireland market remains relatively affordable overall, there will still be households who don’t have enough priority for a social home, and who struggle financially to maintain private rented accommodation. Sub-market rented homes can help meet the needs of these households.

Also of interest is Northern Ireland’s low proportion of flats in the social sector. It will be interesting to see whether this changes over time.

For example, Belfast City Council has stated future residential development in the city centre will generally be high density, and that it will be important to facilitate a sustainable mix of people. Social housing clearly has a role to play here and will need to embrace higher density developments in inner-urban areas.

It feels slightly odd touching on strategic housing policy issues during the maelstrom of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it remains highly relevant; the Review also touches on the budgetary planning reforms set out in New Decade New Approach, which envisage the introduction of multi-year budgets where the UK government has provided multi-year funding.

Such multi-annual budgets would have their use addressing the current year-end development issues arising from the pandemic. In their absence it would be positive to see some flexibility exercised around the year-end that reflects the extraordinary circumstances in which the sector is working.

For me the review shows how Britain has seen big changes in how housing is provided and financed over the past ten years. Meanwhile, in many ways Northern Ireland has seen more of the same – not necessarily a bad thing, because there are things that we do well.

However, there are areas where we need to progress to ensure more of our people have a place to call home, which is right for their needs and right for the needs of our society.

The UK Housing Review 2020 is authored by Mark Stephens, John Perry, Peter Williams, Gillian Young and Suzanne Fitzpatrick. This year’s review was sponsored by Clarion, Crisis, Housing Studies Charitable Trust, London & Quadrant, Northern Ireland Housing Executive, Scottish Government, Settle Group, Southern Housing Group, Housing Finance Corporation and Welsh Government.

It is available from the CIH bookshop. Due to the current coronavirus outbreak, the review is currently available in PDF format only. Customers who buy a PDF copy (£35) during the coronavirus shutdown will also receive a copy in paperback format once CIH’s head office is reopened. Previous years’ editions and material from UKHR 2020 are available at the UKHR website.

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