The DUP manifesto for the 2022 Assembly election claims: “The crisis in available water and sewerage capacity in Northern Ireland is curtailing economic investment and access to fair and affordable housing. Without drains there can be no cranes. 25 of 27 ‘economic hub’ towns have compromised water infrastructure but only 12 will see investment by 2027.”
This is correct.
Northern Ireland’s water and wastewater services are suffering from chronic underinvestment. This significantly reduces the opportunities for wider social and economic development.
Official plans to improve this infrastructure say 25 of NI’s 27 ‘economic hub’ towns are bursting at the seams but a lack of cash means only 12 will see improvements in the current planning period, which ends in 2027.
The organisation responsible for maintaining local water and sewage infrastructure is NI Water.
Chief Executive Sara Venning said that continued shortfalls in public funding meant “25 of the 27 economic hubs” identified by local councils for growth were “being restricted in building houses, schools, office buildings and factories”.
NI Water’s PC21 business plan, which covers the period 2021-27, says that these hub towns have “severely compromised sewerage infrastructure”, and that only 12 of these hubs would be addressed under that plan.
The document says that addressing this historic underfunding in one price control period is impossible – and that PC21 would “only begin to solve” the problems of sewage capacity and the knock-on effects on development.
In its 2020-2021 Annual Report, NI Water’s Chair Leonard O’Hagan painted a picture of “chronic underfunding” and “generational underinvestment”.
The report stated that over £2 billion was required for NI Water’s next business plan period PC21 (2021-2027) to address constraints on economic development in towns and cities.
Prior to the publication of that annual report, Northern Ireland Auditor General Kieran Donnelly reported “chronic underfunding” of water and wastewater services in Northern Ireland over the last six years – noting that investment was below the levels determined by the Utility Regulator.
Property developers Braidwater Homes, Fraser Houses and Lagan Homes have collectively warned that creaking water and sewage infrastructure is delaying the construction of homes.In its 2018-2019 Annual Report, NI Water’s Chair Leonard O’Hagan noted that Northern Ireland was the only part of the United Kingdom with a regulated water utility unable to “fully implement” the economic regulator’s final determination due to public sector constraints.