Poor sewerage infrastructure in Northern Ireland 'endangering development'
The deterioration of wastewater treatment works across Northern Ireland is threatening future housing and commercial development, a trade body has warned.
In an open letter to David Sterling, the head of the Civil Service, Construction Employers Federation boss John Armstrong said that the failure to fund the upgrades will hamper the recovery of the building trade, damage the economy and impact major infrastructure projects.
"This cannot be allowed to happen. The risk of halting development on such a scale will impact the deliverability of much-needed new housing, public sector works and commercial development," he said.
Mr Armstrong is managing director of the body, which represents more than 800 companies and three-quarters of the industry here.
He said 59 treatment works are currently at capacity, with another 21 close to their limits. East Belfast and Duncrue in the north of the city require significant investment, he added.
In the absence of an Executive, senior civil servants are currently drawing up capital budgets in the likelihood that Secretary of State Karen Bradley will once again be forced to set a one-year budget.
NI Water has been warning for some time about the funding deficit. Despite identifying more than 70 works where it's said capacity issues existed, it was given £60m in 2015 to upgrade just 19 by 2021.
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"We started 2015 from a constrained capital expenditure position, with £990m against a requirement of £1.7bn. Further public expenditure cuts mean that around £55m of projects will not be delivered," said NI Water.
The organisation said it will need half-a-billion pounds to address capacity issues alone in its next investment planning period (2021-2027), as part of an overall spending profile likely to reach £2bn. It added that an initiative being developed for Belfast could significantly address sewerage issues for the next decade, but it needs £750m.
"Without adequate investment, there will be further impacts on service delivery, the local economy and the environment," it added.
Echoing those sentiments, Mr Armstrong warned that failure to invest in the wastewater system will "make it nigh on impossible" for councils to deliver on the economic aspirations within their local development plans.
He contended that other major infrastructure projects such as the A5 dual carriageway and the Belfast Transport Hub had been stalled and would be unlikely to require significant funding until late next year.