Northern Ireland Water at ‘tipping point’ claims NI Water Chairman.
NI Water is ready to meet the challenges that lie ahead, but without the necessary funding, the infrastructure is at a tipping point. The stark message was outlined in a speech by Dr Len O’Hagan, NI Water Chairman, at the launch of the company’s Annual Report for 2018/19 and the company’s Draft Strategy 2021-2046.
Dr O’Hagan also commented:
“Over 2018/19 we have delivered record levels of drinking water, record low pollution incidents, our lowest ever levels of supply interruptions and the best ever levels of service for our customers. This has been delivered while keeping bills affordable. However, we are facing a tipping point, and unless we change how we think about water and invest in our vital infrastructure, we face a growing risk of deterioration in progress to date.”
“As a society we need to place more value on water; to reduce pollutants entering our waterways and the millions spent on removing them through water treatment; to work with nature rather than against it to support sustainable economic growth; to be ready for more extreme weather conditions; to better design our homes to use less high quality drinking water for flushing the toilet and washing the car; and reduce the millions spent keeping our sewer networks clear of inappropriate items.”
Drains before cranes
“Our future success and our progress to date is dependent on a solution being found to the funding of water and sewerage infrastructure. Underfunding has already resulted in curbs to economic development with new housing and businesses being unable to get connected to our sewerage system in around 70 towns throughout the province. Indeed, the growth of Belfast City, the primary economic engine of Northern Ireland will stall unless the £1bn investment in strategic drainage, under the Living with Water Programme, is supported. The City Deal risks not realising its full potential. If you want to put up the cranes, you have to invest in the drains.”
"We are therefore facing a tipping point as we approach the next business plan period PC21 (2021-27), which will require an investment of around £2.5bn, including the Living with Water Programme. The NI Water Board and Executives continue to work with stakeholders to identify a means to fund this vital investment. However, a solution has not been identified.
Our shareholder, the Department for Infrastructure, needs to commit to fund this investment but faces competing pressures from transport infrastructure. Unlike in the rest of the UK, the risk of shareholder sanction from the Utility Regulator is much diminished due to our Government ownership. The absence of a NI Assembly places a greater role on the Department of Finance in identifying a solution to avert a funding crisis for vital infrastructure.”
Copies of the Annual Report can be obtained online at https://www.niwater.com/annual-report-2019/
Notes to Editors:
- Nature provides us with a range of eco- services, which filter our fresh water, absorbing and retaining carbon, protect us from flooding, provide recreation, attract tourists and support our overall health and wellbeing. NI Water relies on fresh water as the key input to provide its services. Sustainably managed, this renewable natural capital infrastructure is a gift, which keeps on giving, for free.
- To provide a sense of scale, every day NI Water provides 575 million litres of great tasting, safe drinking water and recycles 340 million litres of used water back to the natural environment. It costs around £460m each year to deliver water services in Northern Ireland. Thousands of assets at a value of around £3bn, are operated and maintained to provide these services. This includes over 40,000km of water mains and sewers - one and a half times longer than Northern Ireland’s entire road network and long enough to circle planet earth.
- Northern Ireland is unique within the UK as being the only part where the regulated water utility is unable to fully implement the economic regulator’s final determination due to public expenditure constraints.
- Underfunding of our PC15 business plan 2015-21 (£990m actual versus £1.7bn required).
- We have developed a draft long term strategy covering the next quarter of a century (2021-2046). The strategy outlines how the use of world class approaches can successfully tackle some of the challenges over this period, most notably climate change. We are engaging with all our stakeholders over 2019 on the draft strategy to ensure that our customers remain at the heart of service delivery. Copies of the Draft Strategy 2021- 2046 and comments on the strategy can be made on https://www.niwater.com/ourstrategy or by emailing ourstrategy[AT]niwater[DOT]com