Belfast Telegraph

Water charges 'put off until 2014'

Household water charges will not be brought in for at least three years, the Government has signalled.

A nationwide metering programme for every home begins next year but no bills will be issued until 2014.

Fergus O'Dowd, junior environment minister, said the Cabinet is not expected to sign off on water charges until usage can be measured in every home.

"I would presume that when all that has happened, then you would have a decision as regards charging as per meter," Mr O'Dowd said.

The junior minister said installing meters would cost 500 million euro, with 1,800 staff working on the project.

Households across the country faced water restrictions last December due to burst and broken pipes, with almost 3,300 council workers dealing with 26,000 leaks during the big freeze.

Defending the planned charges, Mr O'Dowd said almost half of all clean drinking water produced is lost through the country's creaking water infrastructure.

"One of the major problems is that some local authorities are appallingly bad at the amount of waste water that they have," he said. "Some of them lose as much as 60% of every drop of water that they initially start off with."

Mr O'Dowd said there will be an assessment on how to establish the new public company, which is expected to be completed in October.

The minister said transferring responsibilities from councils to the new company will require "significant legal and administrative changes".

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