Northern Ireland

Housing developments unable to be approved due to poor water infrastructure, critical report finds

Developments have been restricted or rejected due to water infrastructure, the Audit Office has said

The introduction of domestic water charges would open up a significant source of funding for capital investment into public infrastructure
Water infrastructure issues have caused problems for development applications in Northern Ireland.

Building development applications in 100 areas across the north have been hampered by a lack of capacity in water infrastructure, a new report has found.

The developments, including housing and other buildings in 25 urban areas, were unable to be approved or were subject to restrictions as a result of water supply issues, according to the findings published on Thursday by the Audit Office.

The report reviews how investment has been managed since Northern Ireland Water was established in 2007 to provide water and sewerage services.

NI Water inherited a network that suffered from lower investment than other UK regions, an independent review found in 2007, and Thursday’s report found that since then stakeholders have expressed concerns about its existing funding model and the ability to deliver services.

The report highlights a 2021 plan agreed by the Department for Infrastructure (DfI), NI Water and the Utility Regulator to invest £2.1 billion between 2021-27 in water infrastructure, an 87% increase in investment levels from the previous six years.

DfI was able to fully deliver the required funding during the first two years of the plan, in spite of drastic increases in costs. However, total capital and resource funding available for 2023-24 was approximately £93 million lower than what NI Water had identified as necessary, and it is expected that there will be another shortfall in 2024-25.

New rules coming into force require developers to deliver a 10% net gain for nature
Developments in urban and rural areas across the north have been restricted or were not approved due to water infrastructure. (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Auditor General Dorinnia Carville said: “A very real consequence of this underinvestment is that there are many areas in Northern Ireland where new development, including the construction of homes and other buildings, is restricted due to insufficient capacity to connect to sewage and wastewater services.”

“The current funding model that applies to the Department and NI Water creates uncertainty and constraints around securing and using resources, and this has been further compounded by wider economic volatility. It is important, therefore, that the Department and NI Water complete a comprehensive review of alternative arrangements, led by suitably qualified experts.”

A DfI spokesperson said the department “notes the Comptroller & Auditor General’s review of the challenges facing NI Water at this point”.

“We will now take time to consider the report’s findings in full,” they added.