Northern Ireland

Stark choice between drains or roads

What is the long-term solution to the flooding crisis? We look at the hard economic facts.

Image caption The choice is between more efficient drainage or new roads

There is a general consensus that water services in Northern Ireland are under-funded, but repairing the ark means there will be less money left floating around for something else.

Wednesday evening's heavy rainfall was an act of God.

No-one could have predicted that so much rain would have fallen in such a short time.

But once it falls, an efficient drainage system is supposed to ensure that we don't witness scenes as we just have, of people stranded, their homes flooded or possessions ruined.

For the system to deal with so much water falling in such a short space of time, it needs a serious up-grade.

If more money is set aside for water infrastructure, it means there is less cash for something else.

The reality is there is never enough money to go around and keep everybody happy.

Difficult choices have to be made. Do we want more money for schools or wider pipes under the ground?

Spending on infrastructure

There is one way of side-stepping that choice, though, without re-running the water charges debate.

That is to look at how the current budget given to the Department for Regional Development, which includes spending on water infrastructure, is being spent.

It is not an insubstantial amount, for this year its budget is £926m.

More than a third, £342m, is for water and sewage services.

Within that overall departmental budget, there is potential to switch more money into flood alleviation schemes or cleaning gullies, for example.

But that will mean less money for new roads or things like resurfacing.

Again it is a matter of choices, and they are the choices that Danny Kennedy is paid to make.

What's it going to be? The A5 and the A8 or better water infrastructure and more pipes under the ground?

The pipes option may not be quite as glamorous or headline grabbing as new roads, but ask someone in Belfast today wringing out their carpets which one they would opt for.

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