Monday, June 17, 2024

Sewer £2.1bn upgrade cost alarming – O’Dowd

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By John Campbell,BBC News NI economics and business editor

BBC A Northern Ireland Water vanBBC

NI Water is government-owned firm that provides water and sewerage services in Northern Ireland

An estimated 50% increase in the cost of improving Belfast’s drainage and sewage system is not affordable, the infrastructure minister has warned.

The details were in a first-day brief for John O’Dowd, revealing the cost had jumped from £1.4bn to £2.1bn.

It was primarily aimed at improving infrastructure like sewers and pumping stations in Belfast.

The brief said a recently updated cost estimate indicated “a significant increase of approximately £700m”.

It added that a review of the affordability of the Living With Water Plan (LWWP) is now being conducted by a senior departmental official.

When LWWP was published it set out three objectives: to protect against flooding, enhance the environment and provide the capacity to allow further development such as house building.

‘Alarming figures’

Speaking to BBC News NI’s The View on Thursday, Mr O’Dowd, who took up his post with the restoration of the Executive last month, said his department was reviewing the figures.

“I think what we’re looking for there as well is a long-term project,” he said.

Pacemaker John O'DowdPacemaker

Infrastructure Minister John O’Dowd says money was still being invested in wastewater treatment

“We’re currently reviewing the project on how best we deliver it.

“They are quite alarming figures but we have to make sure we are investing best usage not just in Belfast but across the north and ensuring no communities are left behind.”

The minister added “it would be wrong to send the message that nothing is happening” and that money was still being invested in wastewater treatment works.

Inflation has had a significant impact on construction projects across the public and private sectors with materials and labour costs climbing sharply over the last two years.

A budget increase for LWWP would have to be found primarily from within Stormont’s existing infrastructure budget.

The water system in Northern Ireland is mostly funded by government resources rather than consumer charges.

That is different to other parts of the UK where consumers foot the bill.

NI Water is government-owned and funded by the block grant provided to Stormont by the Treasury.

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