AN outcry over steep hikes in water bills in England and Wales resulted in reduced increases for consumers, and shows just how unfair the proposed water charges for Northern Ireland are, according to Alliance Councillor Naomi Long MLA.
According to Ofwat, the industry regulator, average household bills in England and Wales can rise by £46 to £295 a year by 2009. They had been expected to rise by much more, but public pressure and action by consumer groups ensured the increase was lessened. However, if direct charges are introduced to Northern Ireland, the average bill will be between £315 and £415 by 2006.
Alliance Party Regional Development Spokesperson, Councillor Naomi Long, stated:
“Once again, the sheer scale of the unfairness of the Government’s proposals for water charges is there for all to see.
“The increases in NI and GB are for much the same thing – improving water and sewerage infrastructure. Yet, despite the facts that heat, power and food here cost more, the Government failed to invest in infrastructure adequately during the ‘Troubles’, and the average income is lower, it is people here who will suffer unfairly.
“In my own East Belfast constituency, for a family in a terrace worth £65,000 paying £292 in rates in 2004/5, the situation is very worrying. They will face a new £325 rates bill and a minimum water charge of £235, a total of £550. That’s a total increase of £258 or 88 percent – and that’s at the less expensive end of the property market. This could leave many vulnerable people, even with a 25 percent discount, in a financially worrying position.
“Clearly, the Government does not concern itself too much with ‘bread and butter’ politics in Northern Ireland, nor is it worried that it may be forcing people to choose between water and ‘bread or butter’.
“It is, of course, a different story in England and Wales, where the regulator has more influence than politicians here over increases in the cost of water to the public. Perhaps this is why Northern Ireland is being discriminated against again.
“Massive increases in England and Wales were strongly opposed, and the result was that the increases were not as bad as first expected – a lesson for ourselves perhaps. Nowhere else in the UK would tolerate the increases we face.
“As there is no doubt that future privatisation of the water service is on the Government’s mind, it is very worrying that NI consumers are being asked to pay more now, with the prospect of further major bill increases if private companies take over.”