Drains and cranes are needed for economic growth, says NI Water

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NI Water has warned that it needs further investment in infrastructure as it reported revenue of £429.1m over the last year. t also said that future revenue will take a hit of up to £25m due to a lack of water usage from bill-paying businesses during lockdown. The government-owned company […]

NI Water has warned that it needs further investment in infrastructure as it reported revenue of £429.1m over the last year.

t also said that future revenue will take a hit of up to £25m due to a lack of water usage from bill-paying businesses during lockdown.

The government-owned company reported pre-tax profits of £84.5m in the year to the end of March, up 4.7% on the year before.

Running costs reached £282m including staff, power, rates, hired and contracted services. It has around 1300 staff.

Its revenue, which had been up 3%, includes a subsidy of £309.9m from the Department for Infrastructure, in place of domestic water rates.

Bills sent to non-domestic customers generated £80.5m of revenue while there were road drainage charges paid by DfI of £22.6m. There was other income of £16.1m.

Chairman Dr Len O’Hagan CBE reiterated a warning over the investment he says it needs from government in order to build infrastructure to underpin economic development. It has identified 100 locations where waste-water infrastructure is at, or almost at, capacity.

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The waste water treatment works at Ballintoy, Co Antrim

It has made a proposal to the Utility Regulator for £2.5bn for 2021 to 2027. A draft determination is due from the Regulator at the end of September.

In its annual report, Dr O’Hagan writes: “The scale of the problem requires a major, inescapable step change in investment. Over £2bn is required in our next business plan period PC21 (2021-27), including £0.5bn for the living with water programme to address strategic drainage in Belfast.”

Sara Venning, NI Water chief executive, also said: “We simply cannot maintain a modern day economy and a healthy and thriving population without a properly funded water and wastewater service. We need the drains and the cranes for economic recovery and a flourishing natural environment.”

Ronan Larkin, finance and regulation director at NI Water, told Business Telegrpah that lockdown had put pressure on NI Water finances.

“Our revenues will be down by £20m to £25m with some bad debt.

“All the businesses were locked down and weren’t using water in their businesses. City centre hotels were locked up, for example, so billable revenue was down in quarter one. It’s only now that businesses are starting to come back. And in lockdown, everyone who wasn’t in the workplace was at home using water – but people aren’t billed for that.”

Last week the Executive re-allocated £123m in Covid-19 funding including £27m to NI Water to help it withstand the loss of revenue from commercial bill-payers.

Mr Larkin said the business had also faced an increase in running costs during the warm weather of May and June. In addition, it had faced the growth in costs from the requirement to provide staff with personal protective equipment (PPE).

And he echoed Dr O’Hagan and Ms Venning’s call for more investment. “We firmly believe that Northern Ireland is going to be held back if there is a constraint on how much money it can invest in its infrastructure.”

Belfast Telegraph

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