The recent flooding across South Belfast brought misery and devastation to many homes and businesses as properties were inundated with raw sewerage and floodwater. For many this has become a regular occurrence as the antiquated sewerage and drainage system struggles to cope with the increased demand placed on it by the rampant development across the city in recent years.
Families have been left homeless, their properties unlivable and their possessions destroyed. Insurance premiums are being forced up and in some cases residents are finding it increasingly difficult to even get insurance.
This has challenged the leadership of the Northern Ireland Executive. They responded to the crisis by offering compensation of £1,000 to households affected by the flooding which is welcome but I believe falls far short of what is required.
While I appreciate that during the most recent floods a large volume of rainfall did fall in a relatively short period of time this is not inconceivable in our climate and our sewerage system must be capable of dealing with it. For a number of years there have been plans for the improvement of the Glenmachan Street Pumping Station that will upgrade all the sewers in Upper Lisburn Road, Finaghy, Bog Meadows and Upper Falls. The estimated cost of this project is £35 million, which I believe must be found by the Executive as a matter of urgency so residents and business owners are not left in fear of their homes and premises being flooded every time it rains.
While this will undoubtedly alleviate the perennial problem of flooding in South Belfast, in the short term the Executive must support the households and businesses already affected. I believe a rates holiday must be offered to those who have been flooded. If people cannot live in their home or trade from their business premises why must they be expected to pay for the privilege? After all this problem may have been prevented if the necessary investment had been made into the sewerage system sooner.
The third action the Executive must take is to extend the £1,000 payment to businesses affected by the flooding. Many households have already received the payment however no provision was made for businesses. In the current economic climate the last thing struggling businesses needed was to have their premises flooded. We must see movement on this issue to ensure businesses are able to get and keep their doors open and prevent job losses.
In times of crisis Northern Ireland needs an effective Executive who can respond to and cater for the needs of the people who elect them. Unfortunately I feel they have much left to do to prove they are on top of this situation. People are still struggling to cope with the effects of the most recent flooding and there is little hope that it will not happen again. Money must be found to ensure this is not the case, people must feel safe in their own homes and businesses and the Executive must step up to the mark.