Northern Ireland Water "sinking" under "chronic underfunding"
Government-owned Northern Ireland Water has warned that it is "sinking" due to "chronic underfunding” for key wastewater infrastructure.
In a straight-talking statement entitled Down the drain, issued alongside its latest annual report, the company said that without a "step change" in capital investment Northern Ireland will face further restrictions on economic growth and more damage to the natural environment.
Its "failing wastewater infrastructure," it said, was "unable to take connections from new houses and businesses in parts of more than 100 cities and towns in the province." This, the company said, was leading to "inadequate environmental protection because of increased sewer flooding and pollution."
Northern Ireland Water chief executive, Sara Venning (pictured), stressed the urgency of the situation: “The impacts of underfunding are not something we can allocate to future discussions; they are happening now and are undermining our resilience to the challenges brought by the climate emergency and a growing population.”
She highlighted that Northern Ireland was the only region in the UK where the water utility is not funded to the levels required by its independent regulator.
In its business plan for its next price control period, 2021-27, the company has called for its capital allowance to more than double on the current period's investment to £2.2bn including £500,000 to address strategic drainage issues in the capital, Belfast. “The scale of the problem currently facing Northern Ireland Water requires major, inescapable investment” Venning insisted.
Meanwhile the company is hopeful that current tentative plans for a Northern Ireland Infrastructure Commission, under consideration by the Stormont government, might help unlock funding. Infrastructure minister, Nichola Mallon, had made no secret of her hope that a commission could prove beneficial in terms of capital spend for water projects.
The company reported pre-tax profits of £84.5 million in the year to the end of March, up 4.7% year on year with revenue up 4% to 147.3m