The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy T.D., has launched the Water Services Policy Statement 2018-2025, following its approval by Government last week.
This is the first Water Services Policy Statement prepared under the reformed Water Services Acts. The Policy Statement gives clear direction to strategic planning and decision making on water and wastewater services in Ireland. It is an integral element of the broader reforms following from the cross-party political deliberations on water policy that took place in 2016 and 2017 which have seen the ending of domestic water charges and confirmation of Irish Water as a publicly-owned national water services authority.
Launching the Policy Statement, Minister Murphy said:
“The Government’s vision for water services – whether supplied by Irish Water and their local authority partners or otherwise under the Rural Water Programme – is clear. Our aim is to deliver and develop water and wastewater services in line with the needs and expectations of citizens and users; in compliance with legal obligations; in a fair and cost-effective manner, and in keeping with the principles of social, economic and environmental sustainability.”
The purpose of the Policy Statement is to clarify – for Irish Water and for others – the Government’s expectations on key aspects of water and wastewater services delivery, by:
Defining a set of principles to guide water services delivery, namely:
– One single, publicly-owned national water services authority;
– Fair and efficient delivery with a customer focus;
– Priority health and environmental quality outcomes across the sector; and,
– Ways of working to support partnership and excellent stakeholder engagement;
Setting out a series of high-level policy objectives across the three thematic areas of Quality, Conservation, and Future Proofing, which must be pursued when planning capital investment and framing current spending plans.
In so doing, the Policy Statement underpins strategic planning for investment. Within 3 months of publication of the Policy Statement, Irish Water must prepare a ‘Strategic Funding Plan’ setting out proposed operational and capital expenditure for the period up to 2025. Subject to its approval by the Minister, the Strategic Funding Plan will ultimately feed into annual Exchequer decisions on spending.
There is full alignment between the Policy Statement and commitments in the National Planning Framework 2018-2040 (which anticipates a population increase of 1 million people and the creation of 660,000 net new jobs by 2040), the National Development Plan 2018-2027, and the recently approved River Basin Management Plan for Ireland 2018-2021. In practical terms this means that provision is already in place for an unprecedented investment of €8.5 billion in public water and wastewater infrastructure over the next ten years, underlining the strength of the Government’s commitment to investment in this key area. Significant additional funding has also been earmarked for rural water services.
Overall, the alignment of policy and investment will help ensure Ireland has secure, resilient, high-quality water supplies and appropriate levels of wastewater treatment. These outcomes are vital for protecting public health, enabling social development such as new housing infrastructure and protecting our environment. They will also support economic development, including water-intensive industries such as agri-food and bio-pharma that sustain about 400,000 jobs in Ireland.
The Minister concluded by acknowledging the added value provided by Water Sector stakeholders in preparing the Policy Statement, saying:
“Water sector stakeholders, not least through the new statutory roles of An Fóram Uisce – the national Water Forum – and the Water Advisory Body, are now placed at the heart of the policy formulation process. This is as it should be, and adds greatly to my own sense of optimism about the future of our water services in Ireland.”