The Departmemnt requires all Associations to consult with prospective neighbourhoods and provide details of social housiing proposals to them by a senior officer. Consultation criteria for all housing schemes are provided below.
Housing Associations are statutorily obliged to consult secure tenants on decisions of housing management as defined in Article 40(2) of the Housing (Northern Ireland) Order 1983. The Department’s Regulatory Code also requires that Associations must seek and be responsive to the views of the community.
With regard to new housing proposals, the Department requires Housing Associations to consult with prospective neighbours to provide them with details of social housing proposals, advise of their property management and maintenance arrangements and establish a communication channel for ongoing engagement on any issues that may arise when a housing development is tenanted. The association must ensure it has provided the community with the opportunity to communicate their concerns regarding the project. Community opposition does not however provide a veto for new social housing proposals.
All consultations must be undertaken by a Senior Officer of the relevant Housing Association with the knowledge and authority to respond to any issues which may be highlighted.
Associations must ensure that a plan is developed and implemented to identify and consult all appropriate stakeholders, including prospective neighbours, when considering new projects and purchases of property or land irrespective of how funded. Associations should also ensure that information relating to the housing proposal is made available, if required, in a format to meet the needs of those with a particular disability or for whom English is not their first language.
Associations must certify on the Application for Project Approval forms (TA1 and NT1) that they have undertaken a consultation process, as appropriate, in order to secure project approval.
Benefits of Consultation
The impact of any project on a community can be complex. Undertaking consultation can have significant benefits for the Association both in terms of informing their decision making and in making people feel involved.
Effective consultation can benefit Associations in the following ways:
- it lets the Association know of any stakeholder concerns. The Association can then focus on alleviating these concerns
- it can enhance the profile of the Association as a leader in the community
- it can forewarn the Association of problems arising from its proposals
- it can stimulate community participation
The Seven Consultation Criteria set out below and outlined in the HM Government Code of Practice on Consultation should be viewed as best practise for NI Housing Associations:
- when to consult
- formal consultation should take place at a stage when there is scope to influence the outcome. Therefore consultations should start early in the development process and be genuine in purpose
- duration of consultation exercises
- consultations should normally last for at least 6 weeks with consideration given to longer timescales where feasible and sensible
- clarity of scope and impact
- consultation documents should be clear about the consultation process, what is being proposed and the scope of influence the consultation will bring
- accessibility of consultation exercises
- consultation exercises should be designed to be accessible to, and clearly targeted at, those people the exercise is intended to reach
- the burden of consultation
- keeping the burden of consultation to a minimum is essential if consultations are to be effective and if consultees’ buy-in to the process is to be obtained
- responsiveness of consultation sxercises
- consultation responses should be analysed carefully and clear feedback should be provided to participants following the consultation
- capacity to consult
- housing associations running consultations should, if necessary, seek guidance in how to run an effective consultation exercise.
The full Code of Practice and additional guidance can be accessed at Gov.uk website
New Build Schemes
Public consultation exercises should commence prior to the submission of a planning application. The timescale for consultation will be determined on a scheme by scheme basis by the Association. Each Association must however ensure that sufficient time is allocated to ensure that prospective neighbours have been provided with details of the housing proposals; advised of the Housing Association’s property management and maintenance arrangements; and provided with an opportunity to communicate their views on the project. A communication channel must also be established for ongoing engagement on any issues that may arise when a housing development is tenanted.
Consultation should commence with an initial approach to local elected representatives to discuss the social housing proposal and seek their views on any issues that may affect development or that should be considered when undertaking community consultation.
A written notification should then be issued to residents who are within or who abut a red line boundary within a 90 metre radius of the proposed new social housing scheme. If deemed appropriate, notification should also be issued to local community organisations. Written notification should provide an outline of the development proposals, advise of the date, time and location of an information session where outline plans will be made available and provide contact details of the Housing Association by way of named contact, telephone number and email address.
At the public information session, visual displays of the scheme proposal should be available; together with other relevant information relating to the proposal and the Housing Association’s property management and maintenance arrangements.
In the event that a new social housing scheme is proposed in a rural or isolated area it may not be feasible to issue neighbour notification letters or hold a public information session. In such instances, Housing Associations should meet with local elected representatives to advise them of proposals and seek their views on the suitable venues for placing information on the development proposal.
Existing Satisfactory Purchases and Off the Shelf Purchases
In the interests of tenant confidentiality, consultation is not as a rule required, unless a number of Existing Satisfactory Purchases or Off the Shelf purchases are planned for a particular area. In the event that 6 or more units are planned, then the consultation process should last for a minimum of three weeks. The consultation process will be deemed to have commenced on the issue of neighbour notification letters.
Associations must consult with Estate Agents and/or vendors to ensure that there are no occupants of the properties to be purchased who may be made homeless or threatened with homelessness as a result of the proposed purchase(s). They should also make a pre-contract request to the landowner to ascertain if any restrictions/covenants exist in the lease/contract which may prohibit the Association from purchasing units for use by social tenants.
Where Existing Satisfactory Purchases are proposed for use by vulnerable client groups, or those with a disability, an assessment should firstly be undertaken to confirm if community consultation would potentially discriminate against proposed tenants. This assessment should include discussions with the appointed Health Trust, and if appropriate, the proposed tenant and their families. The Housing Association’s Management Board should carefully consider all relevant information provided. If they are satisfied a community consultation is not required, and that adequate management arrangements are in place to safeguard interests of the tenant(s) and their neighbours, the decision should be recorded for audit purposes.
Supported Housing Schemes with Joint Management Partner
Where a project involves a Joint Management Partner, the Association should liaise with the Partner regarding the method of consultation to be used, taking into account the proposed client group. For some projects, it may be decided that it would be appropriate that the consultation process is carried out by the Partner and not directly by the Association. Reasons for this may include the type of project being proposed, the intended client group, or perhaps in the case of an extension to an existing building or services already provided by the Partner. In cases where the Partner is carrying out the consultation exercise, the Housing Association must satisfy itself that the consultation has been genuine and timely and that any concerns raised have been fully addressed.
Approval of Consultation Policies/Procedures
Consultation policies and procedures must be approved by an Association’s Board and reviewed annually. In all cases, when a consultation process has been completed the Association’s staff should advise the Development Committee of the outcome of the consultation exercise at the next Development Committee meeting. The Development Committee may request that further consultation or an alternative method of consultation is undertaken.
Audit and Inspection
For the purposes of any audit, Associations must ensure there is evidence that consultation has been considered and where appropriate undertaken in each scheme. All supporting documentation must be retained for audit purposes Furthermore, Development Committees must note in the minutes of the relevant meeting that they are satisfied with the Association’s consultation process and their agreement to proceed.