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Building sector group backs water charges for Northern Ireland

Domestic water charging is strongly in the interests of the Northern Ireland economy, a construction industry lobby group has said.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) called for the measure in its response to the draft Budget.

It also said more money should be diverted from current to capital expenditure so that infrastructure projects could be funded and ultimately stimulate the economy.

Overall, the draft Budget unveiled by Finance Minister Sammy Wilson last December doesn't do enough to support the construction sector in Northern Ireland, according to RICS.

RICS also picks holes in Mr Wilson's plans to raise money by selling public assets in a depressed property market in which the Republic's 'bad bank' Nama will be putting assets on sale.

The body's Northern Ireland director Ben Collins said: "We have concerns about the ability to raise such sums in the current market, particularly when Nama will be active in the years ahead.

"Not being able to raise this revenue would clearly have significant implications for capital spending."

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RICS now joins the CBI in calling for water charging to raise money for the public purse. Mr Collins said: "We realise that the public expenditure outlook is constrained, and that this presents real challenges in terms of being able to maintain capital expenditure.

"However, the Executive needs to do all that it can to maximise the capital budget, and we strongly believe that it therefore can't afford to delay the introduction of domestic water charging."

Charging - which has been ruled out over the next four years by Finance Minister Sammy Wilson - was in the interests of the economy and Northern Ireland "particularly when there are major question marks over other revenue raising proposals".

Ending sectarian division would also be a money-saving measure, according to RICS.

After an initially positive welcome when the draft Budget was announced in December, business groups have been been making their criticisms known during a consultation into the document which ended last week.

The CBI said many of its ideas would harm development and job creation, suggesting a scheme to compensate sufferers of pleural plaques could be delayed to raise money.