Meeting called to address Saintfield sewage issues

Meeting called to address Saintfield sewage issues

8 January 2020

THE current ban on new development in Saintfield will be discussed at the end of the month when local politicians meet with senior officials from NI Water.

The temporary ban was imposed by the organisation in July 2018 after it confirmed that it was not permitting new connections to the town’s sewer system.

With Saintfield’s sewage treatment plant approaching the end of its capacity, NI Water is in the process of completing a comprehensive drainage area planning model for the town, with the exercise also focusing on the treatment plant which continues to comply with all stringent environmental discharge standards.

The detailed study was ordered in the wake of a number of sewage spills at the Old Grand Jury Road in the town during periods of heavy rain.

NI Water engineers have installed special valves along sections of the sewer network at this part of the town in a bid to prevent future spills but have confirmed that no additional work is planned until the drainage area study has been completed. This means that the temporary ban is set to remain in place.

At Monday night’s meeting of Newry, Mourne and Down Council, politicians discussed the detail of a letter from NI Water which detailed that the organisation has identified a requirement in the region of around £2.5bn to maintain safe, clean drinking water and address main issues with sewer networks between 2021 and 2027.

The news comes after NI Water revealed recently that during this period, an additional £183m investment will be required across the council area.

While politicians are concerned about the poor waste water infrastructure in various parts of the district, the need for investment in Saintfield is viewed as a key priority by many concerned at 

the current moratorium on new-build schemes.

The lack of investment in the district’s sewerage infrastructure is being blamed on years of underinvestment in the system and the failure to upgrade networks of pipes installed decades ago which are struggling to cope with demand.

Rowallane councillors Terry Andrews and Billy Walker say the situation in Saintfield needs to be addressed as a matter or urgency.

Cllr Andrews described the detail of the NI Water letter as “particularly worrying” and said the scale of the investment is unlikely to be made available by the government.

“The current housing ban and the need to upgrade Saintfield’s sewerage network is impacting on a significant number of people and has ramifications for the construction industry and builders’ suppliers,” he added.

Cllr Walker said there were “serious issues” in Saintfield with the moratorium on new-build having an impact. He said the sewerage network needs an upgrade and this must be carried out as soon as possible.

“In the past, raw sewage has been back flowing into people’s toilets and spewing out from underneath manhole covers into gardens. Such a situation is intolerable. The current system cannot cope.”

Cllr Walker said the problem was not with the town’s sewage treatment plant but the pipes which supply it, explaining that suggested level of investment required to tackle the problem is in the region of £2m.

He added: “People’s lives in Saintfield are being made a misery. In the first instance, the £2m needed for the town must be found. If we don’t get satisfaction from NI Water at the end of the month and the Assembly is not sitting, we need to go directly to a direct rule minister.”

Mournes councillor Willie Clarke said NI Water was making it clear that it did not have the budget to carry out the required work and blamed austerity measures on cuts to public services.

“I hope the Assembly will be up and running and we have a local minister in place and that there will be the required cash injection. The ban on new development does have an impact, particularly on the construction industry. The reduction on the block grant also isn’t helping.”

Independent councillor Jarlath Tinnelly said no big decisions were ever taken locally, but “kicked down the road forever and a day because political parties are afraid to make them”.

He added: “There is a day of reckoning coming for all public services and I remember reading years ago that the introduction of water charges would sort out the infrastructure problem.

“I am certainly not advocating that course, but the point is that these big decisions are pushed further along for someone else to deal with. Now there is nowhere else to go.”