£6m funding to tackle city flooding
Funding totalling £6 million has been allocated to help alleviate flooding in east Belfast.
Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle O'Neill said £2.5 million would be released this year, with a further £3.5 million deployed to areas most at risk during 2014.
The minister told the Assembly: "I am very aware of the distress and the hardship that is being caused by flooding and the concerns that many home owners have in regard to home insurance."
Last June, streets across south and east Belfast were submerged under water following heavy downpours. Raw sewage seeped into hundreds of homes.
Belfast City Council issued emergency grants of £1,000 after beleaguered householders, particularly in the east of the city, claimed they could not afford house insurance because they were flooded so regularly.
Ms O'Neill said work was ongoing to identify and deal with the underlying causes of flooding. She said: "Following investigations into the causes of flooding, works have already been carried out and further works are planned for the coming financial year. Rivers Agency has also taken over maintenance and responsibility for a number of water courses which contributed to the flooding. In co-operation with councils, additional sandbag storage facilities have also been provided."
Four additional staff have also been recruited to help the Rivers Agency inspect and clear drainage culverts.
The minister said she would consider a suggestion from East Belfast MLA Michael Copeland for the introduction of an advanced loans scheme so householders in worst-affected areas could pay companies directly to install flood protection systems.
"I do think it is a genuine avenue which potentially could be explored," said Ms O'Neill. "It would not be a simple process. There would obviously be procurement issues to deal with. But Rivers Agency are actively looking at it."
Meanwhile, SDLP MLA Conall McDevitt, whose south Belfast constituency was also badly affected during last year's flooding, called for the minister to bring undesignated waterways under the control of Rivers Agency so they could be maintained. He said: "The underlying issue in most of the city is the undesignated waterways - these culverts that were laid informally over the past 100 years that belong to nobody."