Belfast Telegraph

Winter freeze cost NIW £7.5 million

The winter freeze cost Northern Ireland Water £7.5 million, a report has revealed.

The most severe temperatures for a century over the festive period left an estimated 450,000 people without water, some for weeks on end.

A report by utility regulator Shane Lynch criticised communications at state-owned water provider NIW but said the mains network performed as well as could be expected and added there was no need for immediate change in investment levels.

It warned NIW was not prepared for a crisis of this magnitude and pointed to a failure of the company's executive leadership.

The report, which features 51 conclusions, said: "The estimated cost of this incident to NI Water was of the order of £7.5 million. This does not reflect the considerable costs that many individual households and commercial premises incurred."

December 2010 was the coldest month in the past 100 years but the report said the conditions could happen again in the near future.

Overall, NIW's equipment including the mains network performed well despite freezing conditions, and their performance does not suggest that under-investment was a cause of the problems experienced.

The report said: "NI Water's mains performed as well as could be expected under the harsh conditions by comparison with other water mains in the rest of the UK.

"Therefore, there is no need for an immediate change in mains infrastructure investment levels. However, there is a need for some further capital investment focused on improved flexibility of mains operation and better monitoring. There is also a need to think about the future investment needs arising from water resources management and a changing climate."

The 121-page document said not all of the consumer service lessons from the 2009/10 freeze/thaw had been addressed, and this compounded the customer communications failure during the incident.

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