Restored Northern Ireland government gives priority to wastewater spending
The political deal that has just brought devolved government back to Northern Ireland after a three-year hiatus includes priority for urgent spending on the region's creaking wastewater infrastructure, acknowledged to be at or beyond capacity in many areas.
However, a week into the new regime there is already a simmering tow over the funding the UK government is providing to bankroll the deal – set out in a document titled New Deal, New Approach -– and boost the finances of publicly-owned Northern Ireland Water.
The company has said it needs at least £2.5bn to address capacity issues and to continue providing essential water and wastewater services.
The new Northern Ireland finance minister, Conor Murphy, has complained that the promise of £2bn funding from Westminster for the deal - which includes other infrastructure capital spending pledges as well the settlement of a crippling nurses pay dispute - was "woefully inadequate".
Northern Ireland Water explained that its £2.5bn figure includes a requirement of approximately £1bn for the significant investment in sewerage treatment and drainage infrastructure specifically needed in Greater Belfast during the 2020s.
Northern Ireland's new Infrastructure minister, Nichola Mallon, has outlined her opposition to water charges - but said discussions "will have to be had" over possible rates rises instead. In Northern Ireland domestic customers pay for their water services as part of their local council rates bill.
Northern Ireland Water said it was ready to work with the infrastructure minister, department officials and the utility regulator to identify funding streams for the economy.
"Northern Ireland Water has been making representations to stakeholders over a number of years to ensure everyone is aware of the funding requirements and the issues that are arising as a result of curtailed funding to date," it said.
"Without adequate investment, there will be further impacts on service delivery, the local economy and the environment," it added.