Today the Assembly debated the Programme for Government and I was able to announce several key commitments for the Department of Social Development.
Many Housing Executive houses do not have double glazing. The total NIHE stock is around 90,000 houses and of these about 40% have double glazing but about 60% still have only single glazing. Under my SDLP predecessors, Margaret Ritchie and Alex Attwood, little was done to address this problem and the Housing Executive told me that it would take until 2021, another ten years, before all their houses had double glazing. This was unacceptable and I decided to make this matter a priority for the Housing Executive.
Our commitment is to have all Housing Executive properties double glazed within the term of this Assembly and so it will be done in four years instead of ten. I would like to have done it sooner but the task is a major one, after so many years of neglect, and around 50,000 houses will have to be upgraded. I have already asked the Housing Executive to come forward with a strategy to deliver this and I have also secured some additional funding this year to get the programme underway.
I was interviewed tonight on Radio Ulster and the item included an interview with a couple of senior citizens from Rathcoole, Jimmy and May McFarland, who were delighted by the announcement. Jimmy explained that so much of the heat in their home was being lost through the windows and as a result they were faced with higher fuel costs.
At a time of rising energy prices and higher levels of fuel poverty, it was right to make this a priority. It was the right decision and it was long overdue. Improving the energy efficiency of houses is one of the best ways to tackle fuel poverty.
8,000 social and affordable houses
Another important commitment is to build 8,000 social and afordable homes over the next four years and we have set aside around £561.6 million. for this.
Both initiatives are good in themselves but they will also bring major benefit to the construction industry as well as the supply and delivery sectors.
These two announcements are good news stories and I know they will be warmly welcomed. Devolution has to be about delivery and this is real delivery.