Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Regulator rejects claims that Northern Ireland's water pipes are old

Far from being antiquated, Northern Ireland's water system is the second youngest in the country.

Utility Regulator Jo Aston has broadly supported criticism from the ex-NI Water staff who have been angered by claims that the province's pipes are old.

Reiterating the conclusion of her report into the Christmas crisis, Ms Aston told the Belfast Telegraph: "NI Water's water mains are the second youngest in GB.

"(In fact) the average age of NI Water's water mains is 29 years compared with an average for England and Wales of 45 years (reflecting) mains work undertaken in the 1960s and 1970s to extend the distribution system to serve the rural community."

A former plumbing inspector said, however, he was concerned the Aston report made no mention of claims that up to 80% of the water lost over the Christmas crisis period from burst pipes was from business and other private users - and claims NIW failed to meet its legal obligations.

Ms Aston clarified: "At their peak on December 27, the demand on water supplies during the freeze/thaw incident rose to 70% above the average demand and 20% above the capacity of water treatment works.

"(My) investigation concluded that at least 80% of the peak additional losses between the 25 December and 27 December was caused by leakage on domestic and business consumers' premises."

The issue of legal responsibility the regulator made clear: "Article 114 of the Water and Sewerage Services (NI) Order 2006 permits the Department for Regional Development (DRD) to make Regulations for preventing contamination, waste, etc and with respect to water fittings.

"The Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations (NI) 2009 set out the requirements of the company."

NI Water said: "(We are) working to fulfil all 57 recommendations made in the Utility Regulator's investigation.

"The report did not, however, conclude that lack of resources was the central issue.

"The company has introduced new ways of working to achieve the efficiency targets set.

"Reducing the workforce is just one way to make savings and we have been working hard to make savings elsewhere."

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