Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Separate water charges 'unlikely'

Separate water charges in Northern Ireland seem set to be ruled out

Separate water charges in Northern Ireland are likely to be ruled out on a permanent basis, Conor Murphy has indicated.

The Stormont executive has twice deferred introducing the new household charges initiated by direct rule ministers to pay for the government-owned service delivery company Northern Ireland Water (NIW).

But the Regional Development minister said he believed the Executive would soon take a definitive decision to axe the funding model once and for all.

"I don't think it's sustainable in the longer term just to simply go on every once and while and take the decision of deferral, we need to actually change the structures themselves," he told members of his Stormont scrutiny committee. "I don't and I haven't heard any proposition from any party round the Executive table to initiate a separate system of water charging."

Since 2007 the Executive has stumped up £200 million a year to replace the revenue funding for NIW that would have been collected through the charges.

Ministers have argued that householders already pay for their water in their rates bills.

In the worsening economic situation there have been calls in some quarters for the charges to be introduced as a means of offsetting other public service cuts.

But significantly neither Sinn Fein or the DUP proposed any such measure in their recent economic proposals to deal with the £4 billion reduction to the block grant.

Mr Murphy acknowledged that scrapping the separate charges would mean finding the £200 million from elsewhere in the Stormont budget year-on-year, but he said that was a stance the executive appeared to favour.

He added: "I would assume from the decisions taken to date, the positions that have been put out, the position that most parties adopted at the last election, that that is certainly the direction of travel that this current Executive and the parties in this assembly want to go. My impression and my intention from my own political perspective is that the propositions that were drafted under direct rule which was to take NIW in a certain direction are not going to be enacted by any of the political parties now represented in this assembly."

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