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12 years to address issues within water infrastructure – Nichola Mallon

Northern Ireland’s Infrastructure Minister condemned years of underinvestment in the systems.

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Northern Ireland Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon answers questions in the Stormont Assembly. (NI Assembly/PA)

Northern Ireland Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon answers questions in the Stormont Assembly. (NI Assembly/PA)

Northern Ireland Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon answers questions in the Stormont Assembly. (NI Assembly/PA)

It could take 12 years to address issues within Northern Ireland’s water and waste-water infrastructure, Nichola Mallon has said.

The Stormont Infrastructure Minister also said there are “acute difficulties” in trying to tackle what she termed the “historic underfunding” of the systems.

She said the Utility Regulator recommended a £2 billion investment over the next price-controlled period (six years), adding she has allocated £345 million this year, which she described as the first allocation in a long time that met the funding requirement.

Ms Mallon pledged to continue pressing for funding to tackle the issue, warning that any severe difficulties in the system would cause “society to grind to a halt”.

“It’s a public health issue, it’s an economic issue, it’s a societal issue and it’s also an environmental issue. It is perhaps one of the most important areas requiring sustained investment that we have across our economy,” she said.

Ms Mallon said around 100 locations in Northern Ireland are either at or beyond their developmental capacity.

“As a result of this year’s funding, we should be able to address some 40 of those locations,” she added.

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However Ms Mallon warned: “Given the level of investment which is required, it is envisaged that it could take some 12 years to address the issues that have been identified in our water and waste water infrastructure.

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Workmen at a Northern Ireland Water project in Belfast city centre (Paul Faith/PA)

Workmen at a Northern Ireland Water project in Belfast city centre (Paul Faith/PA)

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Workmen at a Northern Ireland Water project in Belfast city centre (Paul Faith/PA)

“So it is very clear that we need to have a plan going forward and that as the Executive we need to continue to prioritise investment in our water and waste water infrastructure if we are to realise any of the outcomes in our draft programme for government.”

Ms Mallon was speaking during Assembly Questions as she was asked about planning application refusals related to sewage infrastructure.

She pointed out while NI Water is consulted on planning applications, local councils make planning decisions.

Ulster Unionist MLA Alan Chambers asked whether any solutions have been developed to allow more social housing to be built in areas with weak water infrastructure.

Ms Mallon said there is an “acute shortage” of social and affordable housing, adding that the Executive needs to work collaboratively to address it.

“Part of the case that I made at the Executive to secure funding was the fact that if we don’t invest in our water and waste water infrastructure then we won’t be able to build the many homes that we need,” she told MLAs.

DUP MLA Jonathan Buckley raised uncompleted developments which remain unconnected to the road and water infrastructure due to issues with legacy developers who are not longer on the scene.

Ms Mallon said there is a struggle to secure requisite funding for Northern Ireland Water to “fulfil its statutory obligations”.

“There are a number of sites across Northern Ireland that remain unadopted and their water and waste water infrastructure is not within the ownership or the responsibility of NI Water; in saying that, NI Water has been engaging with residents across a number of those sites and remains willing and able and ready to engage with developers and residents to try and find some form of resolution to this very difficult issue,” she said.


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