The decision to shift an entire Government department 60 miles across Northern Ireland could leave families open to more flooding misery in the future, the Assembly has been told.
DUP MLA Robin Newton — whose East Belfast constituency has been severely hit by floods — warned the cost of shifting the Department of Agriculture HQ to Ballykelly would leave nothing left to pay for schemes to prevent further crises. “Prioritising around £13m for a new HQ while senior citizens, sick children and disabled are being flooded out shows a low level of concern and bizarre prioritisation,” he told MLAs. “Is this what my constituents should expect? A minister who puts new HQ buildings before flood victims? Is it more important to have posh offices for officials than to invest in flood alleviation schemes?”
The Assembly was told a report by the Executive’s Performance and Efficiency Delivery Unit into how flooding can be alleviated in the future should be with ministers shortly.
Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill was not present for yesterday’s debate.
Flood alleviation could cost £11m in East Belfast alone. Mr Newton said he understood Ms O’Neill has had discussions regarding the prioritisation of her budget for flood alleviation works.
But he aksed “what priority she is attaching to delivering the necessary capital schemes”.
A spokesman said: “The minister has set aside £13m capital funding in 2014/15 for the relocation of her departmental headquarters, and would bid for additional resources if necessary. The minister has pressed for additional funding specifically for East Belfast, recognising the difficulties flooding causes.”
After MLAs heavily criticised the response of Departments and agencies to the flash floods in June, Mr Wilson said the PEDU report would not only recommend some short-term measures “but some strategic ways in which Ministers should respond”.
“One thing that I have to say is that, where problems are identified that cause people's houses to flood three or four times in one year — I have seen some of those houses — priority should be given to try to deal with those problems,” Mr Wilson said.
“Why would we pay out £1,000 a time to those people when, sometimes, strategic spending could avoid having to pay that out and the households having to go through that trauma three or four times a year?”