Newry.ie

Hundreds of families across Newry who are waiting for a place to call home have cause for optimism after a new report by the NI Housing Executive  details that over 700 social and affordable homes are planned to be built in the city over the next four years.

Speaking about the report Newry City Councillor, Michael Savage said figures for projected new build social houses released by the Housing Executive this week show that the strategy adopted by the Council in working with NIHE and other stakeholders to tackle the housing crisis in Newry is working.

“Figures released by the Housing Executive this week contained within its Housing Investment Plan show a total of 709 homes are earmarked for completion between March 2019 and March 2022 in the Newry City area.

“The housing need identified in previous Housing Executive reports show a total of 700 homes is needed to meet demand during this period so these figures for projected new builds show we are on target to meet demand and there is now hope on the horizon for the hundreds of families across this city who are on the housing waiting list and in dire need of a place to call home.”

A total of 187 homes across seven schemes are already under construction across the city with contractors on site and a further 508 homes are projected to be built across a further nine schemes that are in the pipeline and are either going through planning or are shovel ready.

Councillor Savage believes these figures prove that action taken by the Council over the last two years is paying dividends for the people of the city.

He said: “In October 2017, shortly after I came on to the Council, I was struck by the sheer scale of the housing problem in Newry in particular. Not since the early seventies has the demand for social houses so far outstripped available stock. We had a huge problem on our hands and I believed I and my fellow Councillors had a duty to come up with solutions.

Cllr Michael Savage with a copy of the Housing Investment Plan detailing over 700 homes for Newry City.
Cllr Michael Savage on site with a copy of the Housing Investment Plan detailing over 700 homes for Newry City.

“I believed there was a need for better co-operation from Council with the Housing Executive, Housing Associations, Developers and all the other stakeholders and statutory bodies that have a role in housing so I proposed that the Council host an initial Symposium which took place in January 2018 to open up dialogue and get ideas flowing.

“This was a great start and it was acknowledged that through working together we could all begin to start tackling the problem head on."

Prioritise

Cllr Savage continued “In April 2018 I approached all parties and independents on the Council and sought their support for a Motion to change Council Policy to prioritise all social and affordable housing planning applications within our planning system and also prioritise sites for social housing within the Council’s Asset Management Review. This was passed unanimously in Council and I am very proud of the way our Councillors worked together to change this policy to tackle the housing crisis not only in Newry but across our district.

“This policy change has been fundamental to getting schemes through planning, sites identified and houses out of the ground over recent months and is proof that Council can take the lead in bringing key decision makers together to get real issues dealt with that meet the needs of our people.

“I then proposed a Motion in Council in October 2018 that the Council should build on the great dialogue that had developed at the 2018 Symposium and proposed that the Council should host a Housing Needs Conference in Newry in February 2018.

“This was a huge success with the Deputy Permanent Secretary for the Department of Communities, the Chief Executive of the NI Housing Executive, Housing Executiive management and staff, Council Planners and key staff, Developers, Landowners, Builders and other stakeholders from across Government Departments all in attendance.”

“It was agreed at that Conference that Newry is a special case and special action was needed. A positive ‘can do’ attitude prevailed from that conference and as a result schemes to build social houses are popping up across our city and we are delivering homes for our citizens.”

Councillor Savage is passionate about solving the housing crisis in Newry as he believes it is central to a lot of the societal problems we face as a city.

He said: “The right to a home is a fundamental human right and it has been denied to so many families and individuals across our city for far too long.

“A home offers stability, a place to rear a family and it also creates a sense of belonging and community. When you are living in temporary accommodation with damp walls and overcrowded bedrooms it impacts on relationships, health and mental well-being. I believe the housing crisis has a significant part to play in many of the social problems we have to deal with in the city every day.

“By providing families with new homes that meet their needs you are providing hope and comfort and genuinely improving their lives.

“We have a generation of citizens in their late 20s and early 30s who are still living with mum and dad. They have no independence and have not been given a chance to make a real start in life. In so many cases housing stress has caused friction between family members and in some cases it has led to addictions through young people turning to alcohol or drugs.

“I deal with cases every day that are heart-breaking. The lack of supply of housing makes my job as an elected representative extremely difficult as you are trying your best to find accommodation for very desperate people but the supply of housing stock is just not there.

“The local staff at the Housing Executive in Newry have an almost impossible job as they are being asked to categorise cases based on severe need every day. I cannot praise them enough for the way in which they try to help people in very trying circumstances.

“Every one of the cases presented to those staff members are valid cases but they simply do not have the homes to facilitate people. On regular occassions the only emergency housing stock available to people in critical need can be as far away as Belfast or Derry. 

“We owe it to those dedicated Housing Executive workers to get the homes built and provide them with access to solutions for our people.”

With so many social housing applications now in the system and more on the way, the challenge is now to ensure that the right schemes are located in the right area and they meet housing need not just now but for generations to come.

Councillor Savage added: “To an extent we have been the victim of our own success in that there are now many schemes coming forward for consideration by planners and by the Housing Executive. This is great in that is shows that Developers have woken up to their responsibility to providing housing on their zoned landbanks, but it brings with it a number of issues.

“We must now ensure that every scheme we bring forward meets existing need but is also sustainable into the future and leaves potential to meet projected demand in the years to come. If the investment is coming now then we must not only capitalise on it we need to future proof it.

“We will not be forgiven if we just meet short term need and don’t plan for the future as well. I  hope over the coming months there will be increased dialogue between Housing Executive Management, Developers and Planners to ensure all the schemes we build meet existing and future need and also acknowledge an element of social responsibility in ensuring that the schemes meet our Community Planning objectives of creating sustainable and healthy communities across our city and district.

“While we face challenges it is a nice problem to have. I am in no doubt that the work we have done over the last two years has been hugely positive and offers hope for current and future generations in our city and district. This is a good news story for Newry and its citizens.”

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