Belfast Telegraph

RICS says Northern Ireland must pay for its water to splash cash on improving the economy

Building sector organisations call for water charges to be introduced in Northern Ireland as a way of raising money to boost infrastructure

By Margaret Canning

Domestic water charging should be introduced as part of measures to raise money for improving infrastructure here, it's been claimed.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) joined forces with other bodies in the building sector to argue that a lack of investment in infrastructure and housing could ultimately undermine the benefits of a lower rate of corporation tax.

And RICS suggested the controversial measure of introducing domestic water charges as a means of raising revenue which could be used for infrastructure.

Other business bodies - including the CBI - have also said domestic water charging should be introduced, but it faces strong opposition from politicians and the public.

Under current arrangements, businesses pay for their water use, but households do not.

The NI Executive's one-year budget for 2016/17 contained plans for capital expenditure in key infrastructure projects.

But the budget also refers to a cash terms reduction in resource expenditure of 12% by 2020.

RICS Northern Ireland director Ben Collins said: "Infrastructure investment and housing supply are crucial areas for the Northern Ireland economy. Without adequate, affordable housing and modern, functioning infrastructure, the ability to attract inward investment will be severely hampered.

"Northern Ireland's infrastructure is ageing and in need of significant upgrading.

"To enable the necessary investment to happen, we are calling for, among other things, an introduction of domestic water charging and case-specific use of public private partnerships."

Earlier this year, the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) added its voice to the call for water charges.

It said that Northern Ireland was the only region in the EU not to use water charging as a means of managing water consumption.

RICS joined forces with the ICE, the Royal Society of Ulster Architects (RSUA), Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) and the ACE (Association for Consulting Engineers) to make a call for infrastructure to be prioritised.

The groups held a debate at the MAC Theatre in Belfast yesterday with politicians from all the parties on the importance of infrastructure.

Richard Kirk, director of the ICE in Northern Ireland, said it was planning for future recruitment in the sector. "ICE has recently established an apprenticeship with the Government and employers to give our young people the opportunity to get involved with flagship infrastructure projects both at home and overseas - an opportunity to build our quality of life."

And Ciaran Fox of the RSUA also said the energy efficiency of existing buildings should become a priority.

"With existing buildings estimated to account for approximately 40% of a country's energy consumption, we are calling for all our political parties to set out clearly how they intend to help people cut their energy bills by improving the energy performance of their properties."

The infrastructure projects which have been highlighted as of importance for the economy here include the North-South interconnector - which aims to improve security of electricity supply on both sides of the border - a publicly-owned energy from waste facility and the maintenance of roads.

Belfast Telegraph