Utility Regulator says Northern Ireland Water needs 'correct level of funding'

Northern Ireland Water needs to be funded correctly, the Utility Regulator chief has said.

The company that runs the region’s water and wastewater services has been described as chronically underfunded.

Last month a report by the Audit Office said NI Water has struggled to secure adequate funding for infrastructure upgrades since it was established in 2007.

It recommended a comprehensive expert review of how NI Water is funded and governed.

The Assembly earlier this week debated a motion on whether NI Water should be mutualised.

Then, Infrastructure Minister John O’Dowd voiced his opposition to mutualisation, contending it will lead to domestic water charges which he has ruled out introducing.

He said public infrastructure has been underfunded for many years, adding the Executive is currently pressing the UK government for further funding for public services.

On Wednesday, Utility Regulator chief executive John French said the funding must be sorted before the type of management model for the company is looked at.

Giving evidence to the Assembly scrutiny committee for the Department for Infrastructure, Mr French described the situation as having gone on for a long time, noting a report in 2007 that said water services were underfunded.

As well as regulating gas and electricity prices in Northern Ireland, the Utility Regulator also plays a role as an economic regulator for water services.

Mr French said everyone, including the department, is in a difficult position when it comes to NI Water.

“Nobody wants to be in this position. This has been going on for a long time,” he told the committee.

“If you look back at the reports back in 2007, the Water Service was underfunded then.

“Essentially the capital spending is 40% less than what it needs to be to achieve the wastewater targets.

“Either you dilute what is asked of NI Water or you provide them the funding.”

Asked about the potential of a different management model for NI Water, Mr French said the ownership model is a political decision.

“What we’re looking for is to make sure that Northern Ireland Water is correctly funded,” he said.

“You just need to take a step back and see first and foremost how Northern Ireland Water is going to be correctly funded and then look at the ownership models, and that the ownership models support that correct level of funding.”

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