Rural Housing Association is set to undertake a significant programme of investment in new homes across Northern Ireland after agreeing a new £25m funding package with Danske Bank.

Rural Housing Association was established in 1992 to provide a supply of readily available and affordable accommodation for people in rural areas, with a view to helping maintain and regenerate rural communities.

The new structured loan facility will be used by Rural Housing Association to fund ongoing investment, including the development of around 300 new properties over seven years.

Danske’s funding is expected to convert to a sustainability-linked loan once Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) KPIs have been agreed.

Stephen Fisher, CEO of Rural Housing Association said: “This is an exciting time for Rural Housing. We are dedicated to delivering great homes for our tenants by prioritising sustainability without compromising on quality or aesthetics.

“We are committed to making a positive impact on the environment by designing and building homes that not only meet the highest standards of comfort and style but also significantly reduce energy consumption, providing our tenants with healthier and more cost-effective homes.”

MaryFrances McCrystal, Finance Director at Rural Housing Association, said: “We have banked with Danske Bank for a number of years and this new long-term partnership will allow us to invest in new homes and maintain existing properties to meet the ongoing demand for affordable housing in the rural communities we serve. Danske has a great understanding of the social housing sector and Rural Housing Association’s particular areas of focus so we believe it is a relationship that will help us support our tenants for many years to come.”

Terri McCullagh, Corporate Banking Manager at Danske Bank, said: “We are pleased to have agreed this new facility with our longstanding customer Rural Housing Association and excited to support the Association with its plans to continue building much needed new homes in rural areas. Their focus on energy efficient and sustainable homes aligns with the Bank’s own sustainability goals.

“Danske Bank has been a lead provider of finance to the social housing sector in Northern Ireland for many years and we want to continue to help the sector to thrive and meet the needs of people across Northern Ireland.”

Rural Housing Association’s design strategies focus on insulation, airtightness, orientation and ventilation to maximise heat loss and gain. It looks to incorporate energy efficiency measures and integrate renewable energy sources, such as solar or geothermal system to offset each building’s energy needs.

Its principles have been put into practice on recent schemes, with nine homes in Lisnaskea including Air Source Heat Pumps (ASHP) for the heating system which work by absorbing heat from outdoor air, increasing its temperature and distributing it through the building via underfloor heating. An ASHP system is also included in 15 units to be completed in Sion Mills in January.

The Association recently completed nine new homes and an apartment block in Randalstown which utilises a communal geothermal ground source heat pump system. In this the heat is extracted from the earth and circulated through a network to each apartment. This communal system will deliver increased energy efficiency and cost savings to the tenants.

It is also building 10 new homes on Rathlin Island to Passive House Classic Standards, a set of building performance criteria focused on achieving exceptional energy efficiency and comfort. To achieve this requires high levels of insulation, high performance windows and doors, creating an airtight construction, use of mechanical ventilation and heat recovery, as well as eliminating thermal bridging.