Northern Ireland risks breaking environmental rules on waste water management if it fails to address systemic capacity issues, a Stormont minister has warned.
Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon said the scale of the problems with the existing system were such that they could take 12 years to fix.
She said future underinvestment in sewage has the potential to undermine the region’s Covid-19 economic recovery and limit the number of new homes that can be built in years to come.
The Minister voiced her concerns during Question Time at the Assembly in Stormont.
Ms Mallon said she had allocated £344.5m to public supply company Northern Ireland Water in the current budget period and a further £20m for capital investment in improvements infrastructure.
She said 2021/22 was the first year in “a long time” that NI Water was fully funded.
“The scale of the sewage treatment capacity issues in the North will realistically take at least 12 years to resolve,” she said.
“And without sufficient investment in Northern Ireland Water, we risk breaching legal environmental obligations and the ability of the economy to recover could also be affected.
“I will continue to make representations to my colleagues on the executive because if we don’t invest in our water and wastewater infrastructure, we won’t be able to grow our economy, we won’t be able to build the many houses that we need and we will not be able to cope with the climate emergency.
The issue was raised by Sinn Fein MP Colm Gildernew, who had asked about the situation in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
Ms Mallon said there are currently 23 sewage capacity issues in the constituency.
The minister’s SDLP party colleague, Dolores Kelly, also asked for an update on the Infrastructure Commission which has been approved by the executive.
The commission, which is set out in the executive’s post-Covid recovery plan, is being set up to facilitate the long-term focus on planning and delivering infrastructure projects across Northern Ireland.
“I look forward to us delivering on this commitment,” Ms. Mallon said.
“I hope we won’t be delayed any more because an infrastructure commission, I think, will be the game-changer that our economy, our society and our environment need.”