NEWRY, Mourne and Down District Council in partnership with the Housing Executive hosted a conference in The Burrendale Hotel, Newcastle to consider the key issues affecting the delivery of affordable housing in the district.
This conference follows a very successful event that was held in 2019 which resulted in the launch of The Housing Needs Action Plan.
Over 90 representatives from across the district attended the event both in person and virtually. Attendees included statutory agencies, housing professionals, MPs, elected members and the community and voluntary sector. The aim of the conference, facilitated by John Campbell, BBC Economic Editor was to consider if the issues affecting the delivery of affordable housing could be addressed through effective collaboration across the public, private, community and voluntary sector.
Access to housing is a fundamental human right, and housing provision is a core principle to the sustainability, vitality, and growth of the region. It is core to ensuring a quality of life for residents, who live and work in Newry, Mourne and Down district. Following the events of 2020, we have all experienced and recognised the importance of our living environment, including both our physical housing provision and our outdoor environment. Delivering sustainable, appropriate, and affordable housing is a key focus for stakeholders.
Newry, Mourne and Down District Council Chairperson, Councillor Cathy Mason said, “This has been a very successful event, building on the outcomes of the Housing Conference, 2019.
The conference has become an important event, enabling representatives from across the public, private, community and voluntary sectors to meet and provide insights into the challenges we face. Each session promotes discussion and collaboration, to enable us to deliver affordable housing across our district.”
John Campbell opened the conference by providing key insights into the economic context surrounding the supply of housing. The opening session included presentations from Newry, Mourne and Down District Council Chief Executive, Marie Ward which focused on the importance of accessing quality housing, the link between housing and wellbeing, COVID-19 recovery, investment and the importance of community planning and partnership working.
Department for Communities Deputy Secretary, Mark O’ Donnell presented on the Department for Communities housing agenda and outlined the department’s ambitious housing reform programme, highlighting a number of important investments, consultations and new legislation to ensure everyone has a safe, secure and affordable place to call home.
Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE), Grainia Long, stressed the need for housing across the district, emphasising the importance of continued partnership working.
Further presentations delivered by Northern Ireland Housing Executive Rural Co-Ordinator, Sinead Collins, and Rural Housing Association representative, Ruth Montgomery focused on rural housing supply. As a considerable percentage of the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council area is defined as rural under the NISRA definition, it was important to give time to this topic to ensure rural housing needs are properly identified and plans are put in place to support and sustain rural communities.
Lead Cities and Real Estate Officer at the World Economic Forum, Alice Charles delivered the keynote address which focused on how to make affordable housing a reality in cities. Providing excellent insights into affordable housing challenges faced around the world, citing numerous examples of best practice, she informed on how we should approach our town and city centre development. Alice has a wealth of experience working for the public and private sector in the areas of city and urban planning, real estate, urban development and regeneration, construction, infrastructure, environment, climate change and public policy. She leads the World Economic Forum's cities and real estate work streams, including the Global Future Council on Cities and Urbanization, the Real Estate Industry Action Group, the Future of Urban Development and Services Initiative and co-leads the Systemic Efficiency-Transitioning Energy and Buildings initiative and the production of all city and urban development related content and curation of events at World Economic Forum summits.
Workshops and breakout sessions facilitated more detailed debate and discussion on issues such as town and city centre development, housing and health, homelessness, and the development of affordable housing in rural areas. Delegates were provided with the opportunity to identify further actions required. Feedback and discussion will now be considered by the housing sub-group and a review of the action plan will be completed to ensure alignment of priorities to support continued partnership working to address housing issues in the short, medium, and long term.