The Government have held three separate public consultation exercises on the reform of water and sewerage services in Northern Ireland, including changes to charging arrangements.
Public consultation on options for water reform took place over the 12-week period between 11 March and 20 June 2003. Public consultation on proposals for water reform took place between 29 November 2004 and 4 March 2005. Consultation on the legislation required to implement water reform, the proposed Water and Sewerage Services (NI) Order 2006, took place over a 12-week period between 1 June and 24 August 2006.
Each consultation exercise was advertised through public notices placed in each of Northern Ireland's three main local newspapers. Public notices in relation to the first two consultation exercises were also placed in a wide range of local newspapers published across Northern Ireland. An invitation to participate in the first two public consultations was contained in two information leaflets on water reform distributed to every household in Northern Ireland during 2003 and 2004 to co-ordinate with these exercises. Full details of the three consultation exercises is available on the Department for Regional Development's water reform website at www.waterreformni.gov.uk.
asked Her Majesty's Government:
What are the main elements of the estimated £130 million to £180 million costs arising from a delay of a year in the implementation of water charges, as outlined in a letter of 4 October to the chairman of the Northern Ireland Consumer Council from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.[HL7771]
The Government are committed to the introduction of domestic water charges from 1 April 2007 as part of their programme of public service reinvestment and reform in Northern Ireland. The possible costs of delay have not been calculated in any detail and it would require significant effort to do so. However, in the event of a delay in the introduction of charges until April 2008, it is estimated that some £80 million to £90 million of income from customers would be forgone. Additionally access to the borrowing power of up to £200 million annually under the Reinvestment and Reform Initiative is conditional upon the introduction of water charging. In the absence of detailed costing, the range of £130 million to £180 million represents an indicative estimate of the impact of delay.
As part of the water reform programme the Department for Regional Development is currently developing a transfer scheme to transfer assets and liabilities to the new government-owned company which will be responsible for the future delivery of water and sewerage services in Northern Ireland.
The department is currently developing a draft licence under which the company will operate. The terms of this licence will determine how any proceeds from the disposal of any land currently owned by Water Service which is transferred to the new company will be allocated. The draft licence will be issued for public consultation later this year.
The future role of the General Consumer Council for Northern Ireland in relation to water and sewerage services is set out in Chapter III of Part III of the draft Water and Sewerage Services (Northern Ireland) Order 2006. A copy of the draft order and its accompanying explanatory memorandum were placed in the Libraries of both Houses on 9 October.