Belfast Telegraph

Fears of a rat plague surface after NI Water kills off sewer baiting operation to cut costs

By Lesley-Anne Henry

Concerns have been raised about a dramatic increase in the number of rats in urban areas after Northern Ireland Water revealed plans to cut its sewer baiting service.

The water company, which made £80m profit last year, has blamed financial constraints for not renewing contracts with two organisations, including Belfast City Council, to provide the essential public health service.

Both contracts are due to run out at the end of next month.

NI Water has confirmed it is slashing sewer bait spending from £59,000 to £6,700 over the next two years, with a view to phasing it out by 2014.

But, after the council received 2,041 complaints about rats and treated 15,582 sewers last year, public representatives have slammed the cost-cutting exercise which will leave cash-strapped ratepayers to foot the bill.

“NI Water directly benefits from the sewer baiting programme so it is only right that they contribute financially,” said the SDLP’s Pat McCarthy, who chairs the council’s health and environmental services committee.

“If they go ahead with their plans to end the current contract, Belfast City Council will be left to carry the can, therefore putting more pressure on ratepayers.”

“The City Council has provided a city-wide sewer baiting programme for the last 40 years on behalf of NI Water and its predecessors. It is an essential service and vitally important in terms of public health.

“We understand that every organisation, including the council, is looking at ways of cutting costs and making efficiencies; but terminating this contract could result in a rodent infestation in Belfast, and this is something none of us wants to see.

“I would appeal to NI Water to rethink this decision. Ratepayers can’t be seen as a soft touch and left to foot the bill.”

During the 2009/10 financial year Belfast City Council’s pest control unit received 2,221 complaints about rats and baited 17,557 manholes across the city, an increase on the previous year, leading to genuine fears the rat population could get out of control if the service is slashed.

However, Des Nevin, head of networks sewerage at NI Water, said the company does not have a statutory obligation to provide pest control.

“Sewer baiting is the practice of setting out poison to control the rodent population in sewers, and as such is a public health issue,” he said.

“While NI Water has a responsibility to maintain the drainage of the sewers, we are not responsible for pest control.

“As a Government-owned company with stringent financial targets, we need to ensure we are achieving best value for money for the people of Northern Ireland.

“This means spending our budget on improving, upgrading and maintaining water and wastewater services.

“NI Water has no issue with the councils’ own environmental health departments continuing to sewer bait, however they must provide their own funding for this.”

Factfile

  • Last year Belfast City Council received 2,041 complaints about rats and treated 15,582 sewers.
  • In 2009/10 there were 2,221 complaints and 17,557 sewers baited.
  • A female rat can have up to 84 young in her lifespan, which averages about a year in the wild.
  • They can burrow long distances from nest to food sources, reducing their exposure to predators.
  • Rat tunnels may extend four feet into the ground.
  • They can scale walls and walk across telephone wires with ease.
  • They are amazingly resilient, easily surviving falls of up to 50 feet.

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