Stormont department ‘accelerating' efforts to ban water meters

Work on water mains in Belfast's Ardoyne area. Picture by Matt Bohill 
Brendan Hughes

A STORMONT department has said it is exploring ways of how the "process might be accelerated" of implementing a ban on household water meters.

The Department for Infrastructure (DfI) said on Tuesday it hoped to introduce the necessary regulations "later this year", but consultations have not yet begun.

The Irish News reported on Tuesday how thousands of water meters are still being installed at homes despite a Stormont pledge in 2014 to end the practice.

The number fitted at domestic properties since 2007 has now reached 42,200 at a cost in excess of £13 million.

Stormont faced accusations of "deception" over water charges after the scale of meter installations first emerged in 2014, when the figure stood at around 35,000.

In response the then regional development minister had vowed to change the law.

However, the legislation brought forward has not stopped meters being fitted, even though domestic water charges are deferred.

The new law gives the department the power to make regulations to remove the requirement for NI Water to install meters at domestic properties newly connected to the public water supply.

Any regulations still require approval through the assembly and consultations with bodies such as the Consumer Council.

John French, chief executive of the Consumer Council, said it would support an end to household meters.

"If the NI executive does not plan to introduce water charges for domestic consumers, we don't believe meters should continue to be installed," he said.

"We would welcome the circulation of draft regulations from the Department of Infrastructure."

The new legislation came into effect in March, but the consultation process has not yet begun.

There have been four ministers in charge of the issue since 2007. Earlier this year the responsibility was moved to DfI, currently headed by Sinn Féin minister Chris Hazzard.

A DfI spokeswoman said: "The regulations are currently being drafted and will be brought before the assembly once they have been approved by the minister and the consultation process has been completed.

"The department is currently exploring how this process might be accelerated.

"As soon as the regulations become operative, NI Water will be able to cease installing meters, which we would anticipate will be later this year."

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