ALLIANCE Social Development Spokesperson, Eileen Bell MLA (North Down), has expressed concern at the widening housing gap in Northern Ireland that is pricing first-time buyers out of the market.
Mrs Bell, also Alliance Deputy Leader, said:
“This is a tough time for young people wanting to buy their first homes. The growth in prosperity in certain sections of society has not been matched at the lower end of the scale. As a result, we have an upwardly mobile population that is driving up house prices, making it harder for others to get on the bottom rung of the property ladder.
“This tends to disproportionately affect those on benefits and young people on lower pay in our low-wage economy.
“As well as this, there isn’t enough suitable land available for public housing, fuel poverty is a real issue for many people on benefits, second or holiday homes are raising house prices in coastal areas, students are paying large loans back for years after they graduate and there is massive concern about the introduction of unfair water charges.
“The Government should be considering ways of making it easier for young people to buy their first home, such as making the ceiling at which stamp duty is payable more in line with house inflation, rather than cost-of-living increases. Raising the threshold would mean many first-time buyers in Northern Ireland would not have to pay this tax.
“Another idea came from a public enquiry into the Area Plan for the Yorkshire Dales National Park – where local people were priced out of the market. It reported that it was a valid planning condition for new houses to be largely restricted to people from the area.
“Could something like this not have great significance for coastal residents in parts of Northern Ireland who cannot afford to buy a home in their area because prices are so high, thanks to the holiday home market?
“Even if annual house price rises go from 13% back down to a single digit growth figure in 2005, that is still not going to really help any first time buyers. In my own constituency of North Down, the overall average price is now £133,204, which is a massive 17.27% rise on the previous year.
“Clearly, there is a problem here, but the Government has yet to show any real sign of concern about the lack of options for first-time buyers. Despite repeated representations to MLAs and Direct Rule Ministers, no creative thinking, action or legislation has been initiated to deal with the situation.”