No water meters for a third of homes, says official

 

One-third of households eligible for water rates will have to pay a flat charge because the properties in question are not suitable for the installation of meters, the head of Dublin’s water services has said.

The Government is seeking to introduce “universal metering”, believing it to be the fairest way to charge households for water, and the best method of achieving conservation.

However, executive manager with Dublin City Council Tom Leahy estimated one-third of houses in Dublin “will always be on a standing charge” and that the national situation would be broadly similar.

He said that, in addition to apartments, many houses could not have meters fitted because they shared supply pipes with neighbours, or their mains water supply entered the house under their back gardens.

Such properties would have to pay a standing charge which would not reflect the amount of water used, said Mr Leahy, who is responsible for water provision for 39 per cent of the State’s population.

“There are going to be customers who will always remain on a standing charge because they are customers who can’t be metered. About a third, by our estimate, of our customers can’t be directly metered.”

However a spokeswoman for the Minister of the Enivornment Phil Hogan rejected Mr Leahy's claim this morning.

She said a "a maximum of 300,000 homes" would be without water meters after the initial metering process with that number coming down as the process continued.

The exact number of homes that would be metered during the initial process "was a matter for Irish Water" she added.

While apartments posed an obvious problem, many houses, particularly in estates built from the 1940s to 1960s, would be unsuitable for meters because they were on shared supply pipes.

Terraced cottages, typical of many inner suburbs, would also have to remain unmetered because the water supply entered through the back gardens, while flats above shops would also not be capable of having a meter fitted.

“You can’t meter a shared supply because you don’t know which house it’s going into, so if you put the meter on the road you know the water is going in – but you have no idea which one of the houses is actually using it,” he said.

The cost-effectiveness of installing meters in some areas also had to be taken into account, he added.

“Digging up tarmac is one thing, but where you have granite paving you can multiply [the costs] by a factor of 10.”

Citing the experience in Britain, where meter installation has been ongoing for the last 25 years, Mr Leahy said the companies there with the most successful metering programmes had a penetration rate of about two thirds of all properties they sought to target.

“About a third would always be on a standing charge, and I believe that’s the sort of number we’re looking at nationally.”

The council already has extensive experience of installing meters, having spent €49 million on its water metering programme for 30,000 commercial premises.

The installation of household meters would take “several years”, he added.

Announcing the establishment of Irish Water this week, Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan acknowledged flat non-metered charges “do nothing to encourage households to use less water”.

However, he accepted certain properties such as those in apartment complexes and those with shared service connections would “not be metered initially”.

Fianna Fáil Environment Spokesperson Niall Collins accused Mr Hogan today of "making things up as he went along."

“The fiasco began last week with mixed messages from the highest levels of Government about the cost to homes of fitting water meters. On Tuesday, the Government announced its policy on water services reform based on universal water metering, and Minister Hogan pledged to install meters to 9 per cent of homes by 2014. Today we learn that up to a third of homes may not be suitable for meters and a whole new flat-rate charging structure will be required.

“This is descending into a farce."

Stephen Collins adds: The latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll shows a substantial majority of voters is opposed to the Government strategy of introducing household charges and a property tax as an alternative to increased income tax.

The poll was taken last Monday and Tuesday at the height of the controversy over plans to introduce water meters.

Just 28 per cent agreed with the Government’s decision to introduce measures such as the household charge this year and a property tax in the future as an alternative to income tax increases.