Building ban on new builds in Saintfield

Building ban on new builds in Saintfield

1 August 2018

A BAN has been imposed on all new development in Saintfield.

Northern Ireland Water has this week confirmed that it is not permitting new connections to the sewer system and that the town’s sewage plant is nearing the end of its treatment capacity.

News of the temporary ban comes amid local concern about alleged sewage spills from the treatment plant, but NI Water insists the facility currently complies with stringent environmental discharge standards.

There has also been a persistent problem at the Old Grand Jury Road in the town where raw sewage spews out from a manhole cover after periods of particularly heavy rain.

NI Water has confirmed it is developing a drainage area planning model for the Saintfield area which is expected to take 18 months to complete, with the exercise also focusing on the treatment plant. 

The organisation says when the planning model has been completed, it will be used to identify solutions for sewer capacity issues in the town which will only be implemented, subject to prioritisation and funding availability.

Confirmation a moratorium on new development is in place has been relayed to the Saintfield Development Association by NI Water chief executive, Sara Venning, who confirmed in a letter that the organisation “is not permitting any new connections to the sewer system”.

Rowallane councillors, Billy Walker and Terry Andrews, have expressed concern at the move and are demanding an urgent meeting with senior NI Water officials. It’s understood the moratorium is likely to remain in place until the various issues associated with the sewerage system are sorted out.

Barbara Graham, a member of Saintfield Development Association’s Infrastructure Committee, said the group is concerned about the situation at the Old Grand Jury Road which has been an ongoing issue for a number of years.

“Various work as been carried out at this location, but it remains a recurring problem when there is very heavy rain,” she continued. “A new section of sewer was laid at this part of the town but there was another spill.”

Development group officials contacted NI Water on behalf of Old Grand Jury Road residents and in the wake of consultation on a new local development plan seeking people’s views on the future of the district.

Mrs Graham said there is currently very little land zoned for new development in Saintfield with the development group asked via the consultation process if it was a good idea to zone more.

“We thought the town’s current infrastructure is not up to it and contacted NI Water as we know anecdotally that there have been reported sewage spills at the treatment plant,” she explained.

“We are pleased NI Water is taking this issue seriously and would like it addressed as a matter of urgency. The timescale being suggested is 18 months for the survey work to be completed with subsequent work carried out if finance is available. We would like assurances this work will be get some priority.”

Cllr Walker described the planning ban on new development as “worrying” and hopes to meet shortly with NI Water officials to discuss the issue in the town.

“My main concern is the timescales involved here. It is no secret that Saintfield’s sewage treatment plant is nearing capacity and will not be able to cope with future demand. Saintfield has developed rapidly over the years but it is obvious the upgrade of the sewerage network has not kept pace with it,” he said.

Cllr Walker added: “This is an extremely serious issue. NI Water can be assured of support in lobbying for the money it needs to carry out the necessary upgrades, but we are talking at least 2020 before the current survey is completed. After that, schemes have to be designed and the money has to be found. My overriding fear is that this temporary planning ban could be in place for some considerable time to come.”

Cllr Andrews said with work ongoing to assess the district’s future housing needs, it is important provision for towns like Saintfield is met. He said for this to happen, the town’s sewerage system, including its ageing treatment plant, require an overhaul.

“Developers will be keen to build new houses in the town but, as a result of NI Water’s ruling, this is clearly not going to be possible in the short to medium term. New development is going to be stifled which is particularly worrying,” he said.

Cllr Andrews added: “No one wants to see new development put on hold in any of our towns and villages and Billy and I are keen to meet with NI Water as soon as possible to discuss our concerns and those of people who have approached us in relation to this issue.”

A spokeswoman for NI Water confirmed the organisation is developing a drainage area planning model of the Saintfield catchment over the next 18 months and it will also incorporate the town’s sewage treatment plant.

He said the Saintfield plant is compliant with its environmental discharge standards, however the works is approaching the limit of its treatment capacity. 

The spokeswoman added: “When complete, NI Water will use the drainage area planning model for identifying solutions to the Saintfield sewer catchment capacity issues. The solutions identified will be implemented, subject to prioritisation with NI Water stakeholders and availability of funding.”