Question Time: Social Development Tuesday 30 September 2014
The new Social Development Minister, Mervyn Storey, received a warm welcome from the Chamber as he conducted his first Question Time. Mike Nesbitt took the opportunity to ask the Minister about whether or not the demand is being met for social housing. Mr Storey declared that “good progress is being made” with the size of the waiting list going down and the number of new homes being built “significantly up”. For the first time in ten years “planned output is in line with the Executive’s assessment of what is actually needed”. The size of the waiting list dropped by 2,000 last year and has already reduced by a further 1,000 this year. The delivery of new homes is running ahead of schedule – it is anticipated that the Programme for Government target to build 8,000 homes by 2015 will be exceeded by a further 1,500 newbuilds. Northern Ireland is also outperforming the rest of the UK when it comes to providing social housing.
The Minister was also asked about the information being made available to community and voluntary groups ahead of the transfer of community planning powers to local government in April 2015. Mr Storey confirmed that his Department will be working closely with the concerned organisations that it supports through Neighbourhood Renewal, Areas at Risk and the Community Investment Fund. This support has “proved vital to managing this period of change” providing advice on what the changes will mean and meeting neighbourhood partnerships and local representatives.
The Minister also answered questions on land owned by the Housing Executive and schemes planned in the Upper Bann area. During the topical question period, Mr Storey also answered Members queries on the external cyclical maintenance scheme in Ballyclare, the Magherafelt town centre master plan and the Minister’s commitment to helping clear the name of the Department in light of recent allegations.