HC Deb 01 February 1990 vol 166 cc427-8
11. Mr. Harry Greenway

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what was the cost of construction of the average public sector dwelling in Northern Ireland in each of the past three years; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

The average tender costs were about £21,700 for 1986–87, £22,400 for 1987–88, and £22,800 last year.

Our goals are to meet urgent housing need and to improve housing conditions in Northern Ireland in rural as well as urban areas.

Mr. Greenway

Will my hon. Friend congratulate the Housing Executive on the effective way in which it has added to housing stock? Will he assure the House that he is pushing the right to buy, which is the most effective way of involving people in communities and home ownership? What is he doing to add to the resources of the Housing Executive?

Mr. Bottomley

All who work for the executive and its members will be grateful for that tribute—which I know will be paid by the whole House—regarding the non-sectarian way in which housing is administered in Northern Ireland. The promotion of the right to buy has been assisted by the arrangements that we have made to add to the executive's resources. Gross resources available in Northern Ireland will be increased by £17 million compared with the previous plans for 1990–91, and spending on housing in the current year has increased by £12 million because of an increase in receipts from house sales and additional resources provided by the Government.

Mr. Hume

Does the Minister agree that the major housing problem in Northern Ireland is rural housing, to which the urban development grant system did not apply? Is the Department reviewing its approach to housing in rural areas?

Mr. Bottomley

That is an important point. Half of all unfit houses are now in rural areas. It is important to continue the attack on bad conditions in towns and in the countryside. It is becoming clearer that we need a policy of rural improvement to improve housing and, where possible, to use the skills of local people in rural areas rather than outside contractors. We have not yet found a way forward, but we are certainly considering the problem.

Mr. Cecil A. Walker

The Minister must be aware of the swingeing cuts in the Housing Executive's budget over the past three years, which has resulted in a 30 per cent. decrease in new house building. I am sure that he is also aware that repairs in the rehabilitation sector have been drastically reduced and that enveloping schemes are now being discontinued. We welcome extra resources, but will the Minister please consider using the Belfast action teams on the necessary environmental works that are urgently required in vandalised areas?

Mr. Bottomley

With the exception of saying that there should be a large new-build programme, which is not necessarily what Northern Ireland needs, the House will agree with what the hon. Gentleman said. It is important to ensure environmental improvement so that housing areas are good inside and outside their front doors to create an uplift in Northern Ireland.