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Newry city housing crisis needs addressed- Savage

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Newry city housing crisis needs addressed- Savage thumbnailMichael Savage

NEWRY City SDLP Councillor Michael Savage has tabled a motion at next Monday's April Monthly Council Meeting urging Council to make tackling the district's growing housing crisis a priority.

Councillor Savage's motion reads: "This council recognises the growing housing crisis in Newry City and in towns and villages across the district and agrees that every citizen has the right to a home. Agrees to make social and affordable housing a priority within the Local Development Plan and pledges to work with Government Departments, the NIHE, Housing Associations, Confederation of Community Groups, the business community, construction sector, Newry BID, local charities, NGOs and other stakeholders to develop short, medium and long term social and affordable housing solutions for our city and district."

Discussing the motion, Cllr Savage said: "Since I came on to Council in September I have made housing a personal priority and I have worked hard to highlight the issue and encourage joined up thinking across all strands of government in this district so that we create an effective response to what is becoming a shameful problem.

"It is 50 years since the foundation of the Civil Rights Movement and here we are five decades on and housing, one of the key demands of that organisation back in 1968, is still as big a problem in Newry City and district today as it was then.

"That is why, back in October, I called for the special Housing Symposium which was held in January and was a successful first step in bringing the key stakeholders together to ensure that we have a joined-up approach to a problem that has impacted on almost every family in this city and district. It showed that when Council takes the lead on an issue like this in bringing the key decision makers together in a collaborative way it can make a real difference and get an initiative moving that has a positive impact on the lives of our citizens. The motion reaffirms the actions shown by Council in January by enshrining it in Council Policy.

"Every citizen in this city and district has a right to a home and while Council does not have direct statutory responsibility for housing, it does have control of planning and local development planning in particular so decisions it makes impacts directly on housing provision in this area. This motion commits the Council to making social and affordable housing provision a strategic priority within the Local Development Plan."

Seven hundred new units are needed in Newry alone "just to stand still", according to Cllr Savage.

"We have a growing over 65s population that is set to explode by 33% over the next five years and they need smaller one and two bedroom units," he said.

"We have one of the youngest populations in Western Europe and large families and as a result we have the crazy situation where young adults in their late 20s and early 30s are still living with mum and dad because they cannot get access to a social or affordable home. Again we need smaller units to house this section of our community also.

"The current housing stock is just not fit for purpose. We do not have any emergency housing provision in Newry. The default position is to house those in greatest need, many of them young families with young children, in bed and breakfasts.

"This situation is unacceptable and I am aware that it is putting Housing Executive staff under great emotional strain as they are having to try and accommodate desperate families without having the housing stock to house them."

The time has now come for a bespoke and creative approach, Cllr Savage believes, now that the Council has Community and Local Development Planning powers, to map out a joined-up strategy that comes up with viable solutions to this crisis.

"We need to look at a strategy that incorporates inner-city living and living above shop accommodation. This would provide much needed smaller units particularly for our younger population and breathe life into our city centre.

"We also need to look at expanding the Sheltered Housing offering. Our citizens are living longer and I have seen at first hand how local sheltered housing schemes like McManus Court in Newry enhances the lives of the people who live there."

Housing associations also have a pivotal role to play in dealing with the housing crisis, according to Cllr Savage.

"In recent weeks we have had meetings with housing associations who are keen to build social and affordable houses in Newry and across the district.

"There have been positive developments on this front as a result of direct engagement at the Housing Symposium. Further proof that when Council takes the lead on this issue positive things start to happen.

"The Council is currently carrying out an Asset Management Review, as are other Government Agencies that own land in Newry and across the district, and surplus land that becomes available should, where feasible, be used to provide the Housing Executive and Housing Associations with opportunities to purchase the land through the D1 Process and turn vacant sites into much needed homes.

"We have huge problems in housing but, probably for the first time in a generation, we have the tools and the opportunity to come up with viable long-term solutions.

"This motion puts the Council at the centre of the strategic response that is badly needed to tackle the local housing crisis, and with the Executive at Stormont unlikely to be in place for the foreseeable future, it means that Council can give political leadership to encourage all the stakeholders to deliver for our people.

"I look forward to the support for this motion from all my Council colleagues across all parties who work tirelessly on a daily basis to help constituents with housing issues and are acutely aware of the extent of this problem across our city and district."

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