A long-awaited billion-pound upgrade of Belfast's ageing water and sewage system has taken a leap forward amid fresh procurement plans and engagement between the Government and contractors.
NI Water and the Department for Infrastructure are holding a series of events to meet with firms and suppliers concerning the delivery of its Living With Water Programme, a major development that would be enacted over the course of more than a decade.
NI Water has previously indicated that it needs £2.5billion to deal with capacity issues and to continue providing water and wastewater services.
Many major building projects and housing schemes are effectively on hold because of a lack of capacity.
While the plan is moving forward, the necessary funding has yet to be ring-fenced.
The Department for Infrastructure said it "intended to publish the draft Strategic Drainage Infrastructure Plan for Belfast later this year for public consultation".
"NI Water and the department are developing a procurement strategy to plan how best to deliver the many construction projects that will be needed over the next 12 years," it added.
"As part of this strategy, NI Water is engaging with the construction industry to discuss key issues relating to the delivery of such an extensive programme of work."
"(Infrastructure) Minister Nichola Mallon is committed to fighting for further investment to secure the future of water and wastewater infrastructure."
The pre-procurement strategy meetings will be held later this month.
They will see a host of engineering and construction firms meeting the project team responsible for development of the strategy.
NI Water will also deliver presentations designed to give companies "an understanding of the preferred procurement model and (an opportunity to) ask any questions they may have in reference to the preferred procurement model".
It is "vital" that NI Water undertakes the pre-procurement exercise so contractors are in place to be able to deal with the needs, according to Mark Spence, managing director of the Construction Employers Federation. "While we have no concerns with the appetite of local contractors to get involved in these opportunities, it remains the case that the funding envelope for the Living With Water Programme remains completely uncertain," he said.
"Fundamentally, we know that the infrastructure requirements cannot be delivered by existing block grant funding alone, so we must, again, urgently look at the governance and funding arrangements for NI Water.
"Without this, there remains significant risk that contractors are appointed to programmes which have limited works available for delivery, further exacerbating the challenges that we know we face in terms of being able to meet Northern Ireland's infrastructure needs."
A spokesperson for the Department for Infrastructure said it was "anticipated that approximately £1.4billion of investment will be needed to upgrade the drainage and wastewater infrastructure as part of the Living With Water Programme".