HC Deb 30 January 1992 vol 202 cc1061-2
5. Mr. McGrady

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the funding of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.

Mr. Needham

The total resources available to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive in 1992–93 will be around £483 million. These substantial resources will enable the executive to continue the progress that it has made in recent years in improving housing conditions in Northern Ireland.

Mr. McGrady

I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he agree that the cut of £19–9 million from £262 million in the 1992–93 budget is a dramatic reduction given that the proposal for the programme of building and house repairs in Northern Ireland agreed by the Government was already the lowest in the history of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive? Is he aware that there are 23,000 people on the waiting list—10,000 in urgent need—and that urban regeneration will be set back? Allied to this is the disastrous state of the building and construction industry. Can I encourage the Minister to do the double by restoring the funding so as to enable much-needed house building and repairs to go ahead, and at the same time give the necessary financial boost to the devastated building and construction industry?

Mr. Needham

The hon. Gentleman knows full well that the record of this Government on housing in Northern Ireland since 1979 is without parallel. Any visitors who come to the Province can see the quality of public housing in Northern Ireland. The urgent waiting list has reduced from some 18,800 in 1981 to 9,900 in 1991. The amount of new housing in Northern Ireland, as everyone can see, has changed the housing situation from one of the worst in Europe to one of the best in Europe. That does not mean that we do not still have problems in rural areas.

The hon. Gentleman knows well that the Government must order their priorities and he knows the extent of construction needed after buildings have been bombed. Therefore, we must all continue to point out that the bombing of houses, bridges and roads inevitably impacts on our ability to find funds elsewhere. The construction industry in Northern Ireland is not in a disastrous decline —private house building has maintained its growth rate and has the best record anywhere in the country.

Mr. Kilfedder

A colossal number of Housing Executive dwellings in my constituency are in urgent need of renovation—I am thinking of the housing estates at Tullycarnet, Ballybeen, Groomsport, Bangor and Holyrood. May I urge the Minister to give sufficient funds to the Housing Executive to enable the work to go ahead without further delay?

Mr. Needham

I have explained to the hon. Gentleman why the funding for the Housing Executive is not as easy this year as it has perhaps been in former years. I take his point about maintenance and I shall of course draw it to the Housing Executive's attention. It is the Housing Executive's responsibility to determine how it spends the funds that the Government make available to it. I say again that in Northern Ireland the Housing Executive has spent a great deal more per capita than is the case elsewhere and that can be seen by anyone who visits public sector housing in Northern Ireland.

Mr. William Ross

Will the Minister ensure that when the Housing Executive engages in new build it will incorporate in every scheme a large number of two-bedroomed bungalows and a number of houses especially built to cater for the needs of the disabled? That would allow a tremendous movement of people from under-utilised accommodation to smaller accommodation and would allow many people who have been on the waiting list for council houses for many years to be moved into smaller accommodation. It would create a domino effect across the board.

Mr. Needham

I am interested to hear the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. I am sure that the Housing Executive will want to consider it and I shall personally bring it to its attention.

Mr. Stott

There is no doubt about the high quality of housing stock that has been built by the Housing Executive in Northern Ireland and every time I see it I am envious and wish that I had some of it in Wigan. Will the Minister confirm what my hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) said, which was that the Housing Executive has lost about £19 million of funding for 1991–92 and that that will have a serious effect on new build? It is alleged that those cuts are occasioned by the additional costs of dealing with terrorism. Will he confirm that the Housing Executive believes that during the period 1992–95 it will lose a further £50 million from its anticipated budget if the cuts are not restored? That would have a disastrous effect on waiting lists in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Needham

Every year that I have been Minister with responsibility for housing—it is now six years—the Housing Executive has suggested an amount which it hopes that the Government will give it, while knowing perfectly well that it will not get all that it asks for. The figures to which the hon. Gentleman refers are not those proposed by the Government but those which the Housing Executive says that it could spend. The actual reduction is about £7 million. Although I should have preferred there to be no reduction, the fact that the priorities within the Northern Ireland block are law, order and security inevitably means that there are consequences which fall to other matters, and housing is one. The important point is that on which the hon. Gentleman put his finger—the quality of housing in Northern Ireland. As it improves and as housing unfitness is reduced, there is less need to spend so much on it, which allows resources to be spent elsewhere.

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