25/02/2011

Ex-NI Water Offices Lie Vacant As Fees Mount

Northern Ireland Water has paid out more than £3m in legal fees since 2007.

It has also just emerged that a prestigious office block on the edge of Belfast city centre that was previously NI Water's home has been left vacant for the last five months.

Asked about the substantial, modern building on Frederick Street, a spokeswoman said: "The last remaining staff moved out of this building on 30th September last year."

The publicly owned organisation - that is controlled by the Department for Regional Development - has relocated to Westland House, on Old Westland Road, in north Belfast.

The spokeswoman continued: "NI Water rented this building from the Department of Finance and Personnel and we ended our lease in September 2010."

A Department of Finance and Personnel spokeswoman wasn't immediately able to say how much the maintenance and upkeep of the now empty office block off York Street is costing or what the property is to be used for in the future.

Meanwhile, today's fresh Press coverage on legal fees follows a recent NI Consumer Council report into the water crisis that left tens of thousands of homes without supplies.
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Earlier this month, the Council's Chief Executive Antoinette McKeown, said: "NI Water's failings were on a monumental scale throughout Christmas and the New Year - many consumers lost a precious holiday with family and friends."

The Government-owned company is now facing further criticism and has been forced to defend its legal fees - insisting that they reflect the varied and complex nature of the operations it undertakes.

The figures were revealed in answer to an Assembly question from the SDLP MLA, John Dallat.

The legal bill at Northern Ireland Water is close to £1m in this current financial year and were close to half a million pounds in 2007/8, more than twice that the following year, and around £800,000 last year. When this year's figures are included, the total is around £3.3m.

The Regional Development Minister, Conor Murphy announced in January that the investigation into the New Year crisis had been widened with the utility regulator set to investigate NI Water's performance.

The probe related to NI Water's handling of the recent major interruption to water supplies with broader governance issues, including the role and responsibilities of the Minister for Regional Development and his Department in relation to this incident.

See: Two Part Water Fiasco Probe Announced

(GK)

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