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3rd July 2024

‘Collective commitment’ needed to increase housing supply

Minister for Communities, Gordon Lyons MLA, outlines his housing priorities, including the need for a “collective commitment” from the Executive for a Housing Supply Strategy.

Lyons identifies the finalisation of the Housing Supply Strategy as one of his first priorities as the new Minister for Communities.

The strategy, which envisages the delivery of over 100,000 homes, including 33,000 social homes, over a 15-year period, has been in draft form since early 2022, narrowly missing out on approval when the Executive collapsed.

Outlining his belief that the Housing Supply Strategy will “provide the framework to help bring about the system change we need”, Lyons emphasises his intention to enshrine a “collective commitment” from the whole Northern Ireland Executive in the forthcoming strategy.

Discussing “well-rehearsed” barriers to the ability to build new homes including limitations on water and wastewater infrastructure, the Minister says: “My first priority is securing Executive endorsement for the Housing Supply Strategy, and importantly, securing my Executive colleagues’ commitment to deliver the necessary actions to support its delivery.”

Social homes

With the number of people waiting for a home in Northern Ireland continuing to grow, most of those deemed to be in housing stress, there is a widespread recognition of the need to deliver more social housing.

Speaking in the context of a capital budget allocation in 2023/24 which is set to deliver almost 500 fewer social homes (1,500) than in the previous year (1,956), despite a draft strategy ambition of 2,200 homes annually, the Minister says that he is “committed to investing in more social housing”.

“I am keen to ensure that we continue to find ways to deliver more ambitious schemes,” he states. “Continued efforts [to deliver social homes] is positive in the context of wider funding constraints, but clearly, it is less than we need.

“Budget and capacity are two critical areas that currently constrain these ambitions. My officials are progressing work to address the issues and pressures associated with the existing delivery model.”

Stressing the need to not only deliver new supply, but also maintain the quality of current stock, Lyons says that he is determined to find a solution that will allow the Housing Executive, the region’s largest social landlord, to be put on a more sustainable financial footing.

There are a few things that are more foundational and more fundamental than having a decent home.”
Minister for Communities, Gordon Lyons MLA

“This will enable additional much-needed investment to improve the quality of housing stock, but I am also keen to see the Housing Executive contribute to new housing supply.”


Lyons identifies homelessness as another priority, highlighting his recognition that services are under significant strain, manifested by a rapid increase in the need for temporary accommodation.

“I want to make homelessness brief, rare, and non-recurrent,” he stresses. “I will support the shift to prevention.”

Highlighting that temporary accommodation provision currently occupies some 87 per cent of the Housing Executive’s homelessness budget, the Minister recognises that this is money that could be better spent on homelessness prevention or supporting housing schemes.

“I want to prioritise prevention to create as much capacity as we can in homelessness services and make a long-term commitment to developing housing-led and housing-first provision.”

However, Lyons points to a recognition that such a shift will take time, meaning a short-term focus will continue to be supporting those currently in crisis.

Supporting People

Turning to one of his first announcements as Communities Minister of an additional £3 million in funding for the Supporting People programme, Lyons says that his department and delivery partners can be very proud of the delivery of how high quality, effective housing support is making a real difference to peoples’ lives, and enabling them to live more independently in the community.

“I wholeheartedly believe in the benefits this housing support provides to people that can help smooth the transition to independent living, for those living in an institutionalised environment. It prevents problems that often lead to hospitalisation, or institutional care, homelessness, or repeat offending.

“It has the potential to benefit the whole of society and I am proud that my department is playing its part. The additional funding is an acknowledgement of the need that exists within our society.”

Climate change

Having previously served as Minister for the Economy, Lyons oversaw the launch of Northern Ireland’s long-term Energy Strategy in December 2021, which included a target to deliver energy savings of 25 per cent from buildings by 2030.

Undoubtedly, one of the largest programmes of work ahead of the new minister will be his department’s delivery of its obligations as per the Climate Change Act.

The Department for Communities is leading on the residential elements of the building sector and Lyons says that the focus of its work on the proposed first Climate Action Plan will be to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the sector by “reducing energy consumption, raising standards, and using low carbon options for heating across all residential tenders”.

However, in identifying the move as a “significant transformation”, the Minister emphasises his desire to ensure any actions are people-centred and leave no one behind.

“I want to ensure that there is a just transition for all households as we move to meet our challenging net zero targets,” he explains. “I will ensure that we protect the most vulnerable communities and that they benefit from this transformational change.

“I also believe that working in this area will support innovation and job opportunities in our local construction sector, particularly when it comes to retrofitting homes.”

Concluding, Lyons says: “I understand the difficulties that we are facing, but I want to assure you that I will work to prioritise the delivery of good quality, affordable, and sustainable homes. I am committed to a genuinely ambitious and strategic programme of work that will deliver results.

“I will seek the Executive endorsement of the Housing Supply Strategy and I will continue to prioritise building more social homes.

“I will press for a positive way forward for the future of the Housing Executive and I will protect the Supporting People scheme.

“I will work to make homelessness rare, brief, and normal. And I will challenge colleagues within and outside of government to work with me to deliver real results and make sure everyone in our society has a place to call home.

“Finally, I am going to make sure that in my department we deliver for the people of Northern Ireland. There are few things more foundational and more fundamental than having a decent home.”