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  • by Karma Loveday

Northern Ireland networks "will burst at the seams" without funding boost

Water and sewerage infrastructure in Northern Ireland will "burst at the seams" without significant additional funding, Northern Ireland Water has warned.

Chair of the publicly funded utility, Dr Len O'Hagan, said a further £2.5 billion was needed to "remain fit for purpose.” He pointed out that were already 99 areas “where new housing and businesses may be unable to get connected to our sewerage system.

"Indeed, the growth of Belfast city, the primary economic engine of Northern Ireland, will struggle unless the £1bn investment in strategic drainage, is supported.” Dr O’Hagan insisted that "operationally, Northern Ireland Water has never been in better shape" and the utility had "delivered while keeping bills affordable.

"However, we are facing a tipping point, we need to start making decisions now if we want to maintain water services that one would expect in a healthy, western European economy," he said.

Since the company was established in 2007, the recommended level of funding from the independent utility regulator has been met by the government in just three of the intervening years. Underfunding of the company’s current business plan (£990 million actual versus £1.7bn required) has already resulted in development curbs because of an overloaded sewerage network.

The chairman called on the civil servants currently running the province in the absence of minsters to develop "sustainable financing solutions". He said the £2.5bn required “won’t solve all of the issues, but it will allow us to address 70% of our used water capacity problems whilst protecting drinking water and enhancing environmental protection."

Dr O'Hagan was speaking as Northern Ireland Water reported a 22% year-on-year hike in profits before tax at £80.7m for the year to 31 March 2019 on revenue up 3.2% to £416m. A pension scheme actuarial loss of £50.6m reduced comprehensive income net of tax to £56.8m – down from £941m in the previous year.

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