Housing that is well-designed and in the right place can assist with the creation of integrated diverse communities. Good housing helps ensure that people live well and are healthy – it also brings social, economic and environmental value to communities.
Meeting the housing needs of citizens across these islands is a challenge faced by all British-Irish Council Member Administrations, as was recognised when the work sector was established in 2009.
Since then, the BIC Administrations have focused on sharing information, knowledge and best practice in a number of areas including: supply and allocation of social housing, housing benefits, and affordable housing. Most recently, the Housing work sector has been working jointly with the Collaborative Spatial Planning (CSP) work sector. (see below)
The Northern Ireland Executive is the lead administration and chairs the Housing work sector.
Alongside joint work with the CSP work sector, the preparation of a new work plan has been one of the areas of key focus of the Housing work sector in recent times.
The value of working collaboratively with the CSP work sector to address shared policy challenges has been realised and culminated in a joint symposium, hosted in Belfast in November 2019 on Age Friendly approaches to Housing and Collaborative Spatial Planning. This symposium considered how policy professionals might address some of the key spatial planning and housing challenges in the period up to 2040. Over one hundred policy professionals, academics, statutory bodies and external stakeholders from across the eight BIC Member Administrations joined together to collectively address key challenges which might help to better shape future policy making. Presentations, workshop discussions and debate added further context and fed useful insights to policy makers and the event also drew upon reports generated by the Demography work sector which was wound down in late 2016.
This was the first joint sectoral event held within the Council framework and organised by the two work sectors in conjunction with the Northern Ireland Executive Departments for Communities and Infrastructure.
To consider the collaborative work undertaken by the Housing and Collaborative Spatial Planning work sectors, the first BIC Joint Ministerial meeting was hosted virtually by the Northern Ireland Executive in February 2021, bringing together Ministers from all eight Member Administrations with responsibility for Housing and Spatial Planning. Ministers reviewed the work completed by both work sectors in recent years, as well as the joint work undertaken, culminating in the joint symposium in November 2019.
To capture the rich perspectives and experiences shared at the symposium, a policy guide on ‘Creating an Inclusive Future Vision for our Ageing Populations’, was developed, and the publication of this guide was endorsed by Ministers at the Joint Ministerial meeting.
More recently, the subsequent Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted that the older population are a particularly vulnerable cohort and the Housing work sector is continuing to consider how the Council can continue to provide a platform to share ideas on how to support these groups.
At the Ministerial meeting, as well as reflecting on the work completed, Ministers considered the future challenges for the provision of Housing and related services across Member Administrations, and endorsed future focus for the work sector over the next two-three years, through the lens of recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. Areas of future focus will include:
- The challenge of climate change and associated design issues: The Housing Work Sector will focus on sharing information on approaches to climate adaptation/ energy efficiency being used in new and existing housing, including the development and implementation of new standards.
- Provision of suitable affordable Housing: Focus in this area will include policies and interventions to assist first time buyers; how to increase the provision of social housing, including planning constraints, skills, infrastructure and access to land; issues surrounding key workers; and the particular challenges with the provision of affordable housing in rural areas.
- Aspects of Housing’s role in Health and Social Care: Focus in this area will concentrate on reviewing models across Member Administrations which seek to enable people who may have been homeless and who have high levels of complex needs to obtain permanent secure accommodation with the provision of intensive supports to help them maintain their tenancies. The work sector will examine and share information on such initiatives, in collaboration with the BIC Misuse of Substances (Drugs and Alcohol) work sector as appropriate.