Forecasts see water pipes rethink
Forecasts of another seven years of the extreme winter that triggered the burst pipes crisis in Northern Ireland may force changes to how water is plumbed into homes, the regional development minister has warned.
Conor Murphy, facing questions from his Stormont scrutiny committee on the Christmas emergency, said some meteorologists believed the region had entered a weather cycle that would see successive deep freezes.
In the face of that, Mr Murphy said the Executive may have to look at changing building regulations to ensure that water pipes are buried deeper and insulated better.
The Sinn Fein minister tried to assure members of the Regional Development committee that Northern Ireland Water (NIW) had taken steps to address the litany of failings exposed during an episode that, at its height, saw 40,000 properties left without supply.
"Should Building Control be changing its approach to the construction of houses and properties in terms of insulation of water supply and how deep they are buried in the ground and all of that on the basis that some people are predicting this could be a six or seven-year cycle of this type of winter," he said.
"I think it's something that across the Executive we might want to take some evidence on in the near future, bearing in mind the health warning that it's very difficult to predict the weather with any accuracy in a month's time never mind five or six years' time, but there are people suggesting this is a period of weather that we are going to get into.
"If that is the case, I think it does have implications not just for NIW and any other emergency response people but certainly in terms of how we construct properties it has implications for that."
Mr Murphy said NIW had more than doubled its reserve of bottled water and taken steps to improve communications with the public since the incident.
Mutual aid arrangements with other UK water companies had also been strengthened, he added.
The pipes crisis has already seen the chief executive of NIW Laurence MacKenzie resign and led to the establishment of a twin track independent investigation into both the utility's handling of the situation and the role played by Mr Murphy and his department.