Northern Ireland

John O’Dowd rules out water charges to address NI Water funding deficit

Government-owned utility says underfunding has stymied economic development

Water charges could be scrapped in the Republic following a landmark report
The infrastructure minister has ruled out water charges

The infrastructure minister has ruled out introducing domestic water charges to meet a funding deficit that NI Water says is impacting economic development. .

John O’Dowd said a solution to the government-owned utility’s funding crisis did not lie in “charging hard-pressed workers and families for an essential public service”.

MLAs will on Monday debate an Ulster Unionist motion that calls on the minister to “provide a detailed options paper on restructuring NI Water to include consideration of mutualisation”.

Stormont Infrastructure Minister John O’Dowd
Stormont Infrastructure Minister John O’Dowd. PICTURE BY REBECCA BLACK

NI Water’s last annual report highlighted how underfunding had stymied economic development, with new housing and businesses across the north unable to get connected to the sewerage system.

Last month it emerged that the cost of improving Belfast’s drainage and sewage system had jumped from £1.4bn to £2.1bn.

Mr O’Dowd welcomed the assembly debate and said everyone wanted “sustainable water and wastewater infrastructure”.

He described the situation as “complex” and said it required a “collaborative approach across the executive and assembly along with the appropriate level of funding needed to deliver essential services”.

“The challenges that we are witnessing with water infrastructure is a consequence of underfunding for basic public services over many years, by successive Tory governments,” the minister said.

“The solution therefore does not lie in charging hard-pressed workers and families for an essential public service.”

Alliance MLA Patrick Brown urged the minister to “be ambitious in setting out a new vision for the effective management and funding of NI Water”.

“Alliance does not want to see any new water charges, however, we do need to recognise that the current funding model, in which NI Water is funded indirectly through our rates and strategically constrained by the lack of multi-year budgeting, is unsustainable,” the South Down representative said.