Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Some hard choices are in the pipeline

We now know what it would cost to avoid a repeat of Wednesday night's flooding in many areas of the province.

Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy says he needs £135m to upgrade our water and sewage infrastructure to minimum EU standards. That shows how poor the existing pipes network is and why there is chaos every time there are sudden downpours or continuous heavy rain. But while we know the bill, we still don't know where the money will come from.

The argument has been made before that funding supposedly for investment in infrastructure was not used during the direct rule years, but any wistful thinking that perhaps the Treasury will help bail out the Executive on this issue is far removed from reality. That is the price to be paid for devolution. There was a time when Westminster was prepared to fill the begging bowl as it tried to cement the peace process, but no longer.

Mr Kennedy's department has a large budget of more than £900m, with more than one third going on water and sewage. Of course there is another £400m blackhole in the budget, the funds that could be raised by water charges.

Uniquely in the UK, householders here don't have to pay directly for their water. All the political parties have gained considerable kudos for not imposing charges, but is this a sustainable position?

To bring in charges or not is typical of the hard decisions which local politicians will have to make. Without charges politicians will have to sacrifice other projects to upgrade the water and sewage network.

Would most people prefer to be safe from flooding rather than see money spent on upgrading roads? Certainly those affected by the flooding this week would favour investment in pipes.

Making the right decisions and not just the popular ones is the task facing politicians here now that they are part of a grown-up government where there is no one else to blame when things go wrong.

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