North risks breaching environmental laws on wastewater management, minister warns
Northern Ireland risks breaching environmental rules on wastewater management if it fails to tackle systemic capacity issues, a Stormont minister has warned.
Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon said such was the scale of the problems with the existing system that they could take 12 years to address.
She said future underinvestment in wastewater had the potential to undermine the north’s Covid-19 economic recovery and limit the number of new homes that can be built in the years ahead.
The minister flagged her concerns during Assembly question time at Stormont.
Ms Mallon said she had allocated £344.5 million to state owned supply company Northern Ireland Water in the current budget period and an additional £20 million for capital investment in improving the infrastructure.
She said 2021/22 was the first year in a “long time” that NI Water had been fully funded.
“The scale of the wastewater capacity issues across the North will realistically take at least 12 years to address,” she said.
“And without sufficient investment in Northern Ireland Water we’ll be at risk of breaching statutory environmental obligations and the ability of the economy to recover could also be affected.
“I will continue to make representations to my Executive colleagues, because if we’re not investing in our water and wastewater infrastructure, then we won’t be able to grow our economy, we won’t be able to build the many homes that we need and we won’t be able to tackle the climate emergency.”
The issue was raised by Sinn Féin MLA Colm Gildernew who had asked about the situation in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
Ms Mallon said there were currently 23 wastewater capacity issues in the constituency.
The minister’s SDLP party colleague Dolores Kelly also asked for an update on the Infrastructure Commission that has been agreed by the Executive.
The commission, which is set out in the Executive’s post Covid recovery plan, is being established to facilitate long term focus on planning and delivery on infrastructure projects across Northern Ireland.
“I look forward to us realising that commitment,” said Ms Mallon.
“I’d hope that we don’t experience any further delay because an Infrastructure Commission I believe is a game changer that our economy, society and environment needs.”