Northern Ireland Water (NIW) was this week coming under scrutiny from the utilities regulator over the handling of its winter water crisis, amid calls to introduce additional water charges.
The NI Authority for Utility Regulation will conduct a review into the fallout of the “freeze-thaw” problems that resulted in hundreds of burst pipes and thousands of homes left without running water.
NIW’s response to the problems was denounced as “shambolic” and “utterly inadequate” by East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell.
The regulator will report to the Northern Ireland Executive at the end of February at the earliest, but may make interim recommendations to NIW in the meantime if extreme weather conditions recur.
“The political posturing on water charges is no longer tenable”
The crisis was blamed on a combination of prolonged severe weather and out-of-shape infrastructure. In September, the ICE criticised Northern Ireland’s water infrastructure as “requiring attention” in its State of the Nation report.
The problems have fuelled debate over whether Northern Ireland residents should pay domestic water charges on top of their regional rates – a question the ICE called “the elephant in the room”. “The political posturing on water charges is no longer tenable, especially in light of the reduction in the Northern Ireland block grant,” it said.
Decades of underinvestment in water infrastructure are “coming back to haunt us”, said ICE NI regional director Wendy Blundell.
NIW denounced public criticism of its staff as “grossly unfair”, and said the review will be “to the long term benefit of NIW and its customers”.
NIW chief executive Lawrence Mackenzie resigned over the crisis on 5 January. Water supply was restored to all properties by 6 January.