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Housing development plans will fail without vital sewerage upgrades – Sugden

INDEPENDENT MLA Claire Sugden has said she is “extremely worried” that many new property developments, designed to ease Northern Ireland’s growing housing crisis, will not get planning permission unless vast swathes of inadequate sewer systems are improved.

For any new development to receive planning permission, the existing sewerage system for the area must be able to cope with the extra demands to be placed on it. NI Water have said areas of more than 300 town and villages across each of Northern Ireland’s 11 councils have inadequate sewerage capacity, meaning that ‘new planning applications may be declined’.

“We are in the midst of a housing crisis where house prices have rocketed, rents have done likewise and the pool of available properties is shrinking all the time,” Ms Sugden said.

“We simply need more houses, because one of the reasons for the persistently high property prices here is the fact we aren’t making many more of them.

“More houses are sorely needed, but even looking past the prohibitively expensive price of building materials at the moment, we have this huge issue of a sewerage system that has been neglected for decades and is increasingly struggling to cope with the current demands. If the systems aren’t up to scratch in an area, houses can’t be built – it’s as simple as that.”

Ms Sugden has written to and questioned both the current Minister for Infrastructure John O’Dowd and his predecessor Nichola Mallon about steps being taken to bring the wastewater system up to a level where more properties could be accommodated. She has also urged a joined-up approach between Mr O’Dowd and the Minister for Communities Deirdre Hargey in order to resolve the issue as soon as possible.

“Many of the planned improvements outlined to me were small in scale compared to the task at hand, and also the time frame was often very long, meaning we will see not tangible improvements in the vast majority of these areas for years,” Ms Sugden said.

“More money will be needed, but for this to happen we need a functioning Executive to agree to it and an Assembly to rubber-stamp it.

“But we must also look at ways to change the system for the better if we can. Rather than simply making the current system bigger to cope with more capacity, we also need to look at ways of doing things so the extra capacity is not needed – such as separating storm water and sewage into different networks and reducing the amount of storm water entering the system in the first place through better drainage and catchment management.

“There’s no avoiding the fact that our sewerage system has been neglected for decades. What is clear, however, is that if we don’t do something to change it for the better, and soon, then it will have serious knock-on effects – not least on our ability to build homes to house all those people who desperately need it.”

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