ALLIANCE Party Council Candidate Elena Aceves-Cully has said that people in Northern Ireland are facing high water charges that are simply unheard of in other parts of the European Union.
Mrs Aceves-Cully, who is originally from Spain, is standing for Larne Council. She said:
“It is unfair to say that Northern Ireland has never been charged for the treatment of water. In fact, water charges have formed part of our rate payments for years, and no-one should pay twice for something.
“It is a sad fact that our water treatment infrastructure must overcome years of direct rule under-investment and that urgent action must be taken to redress this in order to provide modern water and sewage treatment facilities.
“We already pay for the use of water, as this is necessary to finance the running of water treatment. But consumers cannot be expected to pay for the previous neglect of our politicians who directed funds available to other areas, nor should they be expected to pay twice. There are better ways to bring our infrastructure up to the standard of the rest of Europe.
“I do not agree that water users should be charged according to the size of their property. To do so would amount to introducing another tax, which undoubtedly would penalise some vulnerable groups, such as elderly people living in large properties and who have done so over the years.
“You should only pay for what you use, and there should be built-in safeguards to any new system to protect the vulnerable. However, water bills should not cost the earth.
“”In Northern Ireland, the Government estimates that the average water bill under its proposals will be between £315 and £415 a year. Having done some comparative research into other countries within the EU, I found that a couple in a northern city in Spain can pay as little as £6.48 per quarter for the use and treatment of the water they use.
“A similar amount was paid by another couple who owns a house in southern France. Over there, water is at a premium and people are offered a discounted rate for the first 15 cubic metres consumed (per quarter), with an escalating index of charges for consumption above that level.
“Their water bill includes small charges for meter maintenance, infrastructure and necessary improvements to the treatment of sewage, in line with EU environmental directives. Local council and EU funding contributes to the financing of those sewage improvements.
“But there are two more issues which must be highlighted when considering how water should be valued and charged. Firstly, water is a scarce commodity and consumers should be encouraged to use it wisely. Charging for water according to the size of a house or their wages will inevitably result in customers using and wasting more water.
“Secondly, water poured into the environment as sewage has an enormous detrimental effect on our ecosystem and it is very expensive to treat. We must encourage water users to save this precious resource and not to use more than necessary. I challenge our Direct Rule Ministers to open their eyes and to look beyond the ‘Rip-off Britain’ borders to compare the true cost of treating water with the rest of the European Union.”