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Social housing need in Northern Ireland and Ireland can only be addressed by working together, the newly appointed Social Development Minister Alex Attwood told a University of Ulster conference today.

The Minister was the keynote speaker at the annual two-day Conference of the Isles in Newcastle, County Down, which was jointly hosted by the Chartered Institute of Housing.

He said: “The theme today – ‘Moving Housing Forward Together’ – recognises that we must all plan together for the future and in these uncertain times we must be innovative in deciding how best to move forward.

“There are thousands of people in social housing need across the UK and Ireland and it is only by planning together and sharing best practice across these isles that we can address housing need and supply.”

Conference delegates, made up of housing professionals from across the UK and Ireland, will debate how solutions to the shortage of housing can be implemented in the face of public spending cuts – and how to build better partnerships between the public and private sectors.

Paddy Gray, Professor of Housing at the University of Ulster and co-organiser of the conference, said: “The need for rented housing is at its greatest level for decades given the downturn in the economy and the increased difficulties households are facing in buying their own homes.

“There are many organisations striving to maintain standards whilst at the same time increase the supply of affordable housing in a climate of financial austerity and it is vital that new ideas and experiences are shared.

“This is an exciting time to be working in housing, with the potential for transformation and innovation across the sector. Conference delegates will be interested in hearing Minister Attwood’s thoughts on how we can move housing forward and build on the excellent work that has already been done.”

Grainia Long, Director of the Chartered Institute of Housing, Northern Ireland, added: “I welcome Minister Attwood’s call for innovation in housing, which couldn't be more timely. Now is the time for new ways of thinking and working.

“The conference will see several speakers address the need for financial innovation and new forms of investment in housing, which is a fundamental priority in light of recent announcements on cuts to public expenditure. There may be challenges ahead for the housing sector, but there are also significant opportunities for change and progress that need to be embraced.”
Among the speakers at the conference in the Slieve Donard Hotel are: Will Haire, the Department of Social Development’s Permanent Secretary; Matthew Taylor from the Royal Society of the Arts; Michael Mulreany of the Institute of Public Administration in Dublin; Simon Hamilton MLA, the Chair of the Social Development Committee and UTV’s Business Editor, Jamie Delargy.

Since it began in 1999, the Conference of the Isles’ cross-border focus has provided an invaluable forum in which housing professionals in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland can come together to share ideas and best practice.