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Support needed to improve sustainability in housing association stock

NIFHA members met at its annual Development and Asset Management Conference in Belfast this week

The social housing sector is aiming to raise standards in sustainability and energy efficiency, but action is needed to secure the finance and labour to meet ambitious timeframes and targets – that was the message at the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Development & Asset Management Conference in Belfast.

Northern Ireland Federation of Housing (NIFHA) is the representative body for the 20 Housing Associations in Northern Ireland, who collectively manage more than 57,000 homes, as well as providing care and support to thousands more.

The NIFHA Development & Asset Management Conference heard from a range of sector experts from across the UK and Ireland on best practices and innovation in housing maintenance, retrofitting, decarbonisation and sustainability in the development of new homes. The conference was sponsored by Ulster Bank, whose Chief Economist, Richard Ramsey, detailed the economic challenges faced locally and how they impact the social housing sector.

Ulster Bank’s Chief Economist Richard Ramsey and NIFHA Chief Executive Seamus Leheny at the 2023 NIFHA Development & Asset Management Conference in Belfast.

Delegates from Housing Associations, contractors and supply chain heard from Sarah Schofield from Adra Housing in Wales, Barry McCarron, Passive House Ireland, Mark Spence, Construction Employers Federation, Richard Brown, RBBA Ltd, Joanne Hiscock, Moat Homes and Ian Hutchcroft, Energiesprong.

Speaking at the conference, Seamus Leheny, Chief Executive of NIHFA, said “The economic circumstances housing associations faced in recent years have been extremely difficult. In recent years we saw significant rises in the cost of construction materials, as well as skilled labour shortages. Then 2022 brought the energy cost crisis, the cost of living rises and inflation at rates not seen for decades. Housing Associations are social enterprises, which are well managed and extremely efficient, but no organisation is immune to the rise in costs in the last 12 months.

“As the social housing sector looks at how we play a role in tackling climate change, the next goal of the sector is improving energy efficiency and sustainability in current stock and new build homes, in line with the Energy Strategy. This work is essential and it must begin now, which is why this conference has a strong focus on decarbonising housing, retrofitting to makes homes warm and safe, and dealing with damp & mould.

“Housing Associations are ready to get on with this work, but it will take significant financial investment, and other areas are already ahead of Northern Ireland in the implementation of strategies to address these issues. The benefits are clear, homes will be of a better standard and energy costs will come down. But if we don’t act now we are at risk of falling behind further, not least because we could lose a skilled labour force to other areas who are already taking direct action. It was not lost on those in attendance that a central element of progress on these issues is a functioning NI Executive and NI Assembly – we need that sooner rather than later.”