No separate water charges

I am delighted to see that the recommendations of the Independent Water Review Panel, set up by Sinn Féin Minister for Regional Development Conor Murphy, is that we will not be paying twice for our water.

The direct rulers told us that we would have to start paying for our water with separate and high water charges. They tried to claim that we have not been paying for water all this time.

Sinn Féin and others have always said that we have been paying for our water through our rates. They also questioned why Brit ministers had not invested any money in our water service this last 30 years.

The Review Panel, Chaired by Queen's University Professor Paddy Hillyard, has said that we already pay, on average, £160 per year on water charges through our rates. They have suggested that an extra, on average, £120 per year be paid to invest in our water system and sewage.

That amount is a lot, lot lower than was being suggested by direct rule ministers. It will also mean that those from low income families and the most vulnerable in society will not pay at all. This is in stark contrast with what was being suggested by the direct rulers.

This increased amount through our rates will not begin until 2009 and will be based on the value of your house in 2005 as opposed to the current value.

That's a good and fair deal for consumers and is supported by the ICTU and the Consumer Council.

Eleanor Gill of the General Consumer Council has welcomed the review's proposals

"People will have lower bills than they expected because they will not pay for water twice or pay any more until April 2009 when water will be clearly identified on the rates bill," she said.

"Stripping out unfair costs like roads drainage, having one bill with the water payment clearly identifiable and requiring greater efficiency from the water company will ensure that consumers get a fair deal and value for money."

I believe it is a fair and just set of proposals

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