Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Flooding in Andersonstown and Falls

Adjournment – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 19th May 2009.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin 3:15 pm, 19th May 2009

The proposer of the topic for debate will have 15 minutes to propose, and all other Members who wish to speak will have approximately eight minutes.

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Business Committee for permitting the Adjournment debate to take place, and I thank the Minister for his attendance this afternoon. I am sure that he anticipates that, over the next 15 minutes, I may put three or four questions to him for answer either today or subsequently.

It may be a twist of irony that the weather over the past two or three weeks brings into sharp relief the relevance of the topic. It is a reminder of what people had to endure last year and may yet have to endure this year. I want to articulate some issues and probe the Minister and the Assembly on several matters that have yet to be addressed.

It is important to put on record in the Chamber the narrative of what happened last August, not only in west Belfast but in other parts of the city, so that the acute circumstances that were faced by too many families in the city will be better understood. I asked a Glenhill resident, therefore, to provide a personal narrative of her experience on 16 August 2008. She said:

“I was looking out my window when I noticed a deluge of water coming from the back garden and I knew that we were going to be flooded again. Over a period of 40 years the residents of Glenhill have had 4 floods and numerous scares of flooding, probably over 200. If there was heavy rain we would rush out and open the manholes. You always lived in constant fear that the flooding would reoccur.”

She continues by describing what happened on Saturday 16 August 2008:

“We had less than 5 minutes warning from the street being clear to water entering the house. The water came up to our knees and there was absolutely nothing we could have done to prevent this happening…The damage was extensive to the ground floor with wooden floors being lifted, all the suites under water, all the white goods and kitchen units ruined and electrical goods destroyed. This water was contaminated with sewerage as several of the homeowners had to open the sewerage grates to try and get rid of the water…At the back of our houses there is a small river which runs the full length of the street. This river had been the cause of numerous floods during heavy rain falls and been piped off by the Rivers Agency years previous.”

The resident describes what happened at a meeting that was held the following week:

“The Rivers Agency claimed this had nothing to do with them and it was the responsibility of the homeowners. I asked all the residents individually if they had piped off the river running at the back of the houses. Obviously they all replied they did not. I then asked the representative from the Rivers Agency if they had piped off the river. He said they had so I said it was their responsibility as they had not made the pipes big enough to deal with such a large amount of water. The representative for the Rivers Agency had a map of the river and said ‘I can see the problem already.’ Apparently there is a large pipe at the top of the street which takes the water, the pipe then narrows, and then later splits into 2. The force of the water was that great that the covers had blown 12 feet into the air. Some of the covers have never been found.”

Her narrative continues at length, and I may return to it later.

A similar story could be told by people who live in the Stockman’s Lane area, Rodney Parade, the Beechmount area, York Road, Shore Road, Carrington Street, Orangefield and the Castlereagh Road. Those areas were most acutely affected on that Saturday and Sunday.

In the course of that weekend, 165 phone calls were made by people who were distressed about what was happening in or around their properties. As a consequence of that, 347 emergency payments were made, on top of the 609 that were made in June 2007. However, on the eve of our rainy season and with the Met Office saying that this summer will be warmer, sunnier and wetter than average, the question is whether the flooding and subsequent problems that arose in 2008 will reoccur in 2009.

I want to probe that matter in three ways. As the Glenhill resident outlined, the essential problem there is that a 750 mm river pipe must be replaced with a 1,500 mm river pipe. Last year’s circumstances have led to the Rivers Agency conducting a feasibility study and cost-benefit analysis for doing that. I understand that the Rivers Agency had hoped to complete the work to rectify the pipe problem by the end of the past financial year. However, on 3 March this year, the Rivers Agency advised Glenhill residents that the cost of the work to be undertaken meant that the matter had to be referred to the Drainage Council, which was not due to meet until May or June. Therefore, work in that neighbourhood would have to wait until later in the summer. In my view, that is not good enough.

When there is a problem and the solution to it is clear, how can the acute risk faced by Glenhill be prolonged by a bureaucratic process around the costing and approval of the required work? When a problem has existed for years and when the solution has been identified and clearly acknowledged, why can that work not be done in quick time? In responding to my questions this afternoon, I want the Minister to update the Assembly on where this issue now lies. Will the Minister tell us what can be done to accelerate that process? In particular, will the Minister tell us when the offending pipes, for want of a better term, will be replaced?

The delay in replacing the pipes and fundamentally resolving the problem leads me to the next issue. People in areas of flood risk are having difficulty in securing insurance because companies are now, perhaps understandably from their point of view, asking for details of the permanent measures being undertaken by the Rivers Agency to resolve problems arising from the Blackstaff River in the Glenhill area and in other potential flood-risk areas of Belfast. Some people with a certain level of exposure face the summer without knowing for sure that they will have insurance cover for their properties. As the Glenhill resident outlined, the risk to their property and possessions is enormous.

In July 2008, in response to the flooding problem in England, the Association of British Insurers and the Government agreed to flood insurance being made widely available in both the short and long term. I understand that useful conversations have taken place and are ongoing in respect of the situation in the North. However, will the Minister state where we now are in providing the necessary information on flood risk to insurers? In particular, is it the case that the strategic flood map that is being prepared is not sufficiently detailed and accurate to determine the flood risk to specific properties or locations? Is the strategic flood map fit to be used to identify flood risk to particular properties and, consequently, their insurance requirements? Can it be used to reassure insurance companies about the risk to commercial as opposed to domestic properties?

A broader concern arises — not just in west Belfast, although it is particularly acute there — about overdevelopment and whether the water and sewerage infrastructure in some areas is fit for purpose and whether it can deal with future flood risk. I know that that strays more into the responsibility of the Department of the Environment and the Planning Service, but Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 15, which was issued in 2006, sets out guidance on planning and flood risk. It contains land-use planning policies to deal with the flood risk in parts of the North.

In light of the experiences of the past two years, I urge the Minister for Regional Development to speak to the Minister of the Environment to determine whether PPS 15 is all that it needs to be in relation to the flood risk to properties in Belfast and beyond. Scotland’s equivalent, Planning Policy Statement 7, states that people should err on the side of caution when developing areas of flood risk. I am concerned because there has been such intense development in west Belfast, and there will be more in future, much of which is very welcome because of the need for social and other housing. Is the balance right between erring on the side of caution and allowing developments to proceed? Planning Policy Statement 15 should be looked at in that regard.

Last August, many people and agencies, including the emergency services, worked hard in response to a very difficult situation, and nothing should diminish their contributions in mitigating the acute situation that too many people in this city faced. I also acknowledge that since last August there have been structural and policy developments in central and local government that could mitigate future risk. None of my questions should take away from the positive work of the past 10 months.

The people of Glenhill and of other parts of Belfast had to fight insurance battles because of what they experienced that Saturday afternoon; some people were out of their houses for nine months, returning only in recent weeks. There is a risk in that area and in other parts of the city. Is everything in place or will it be in place by the middle of August to ensure that, as far as possible, every action has been taken to guarantee that there will not be a repetition of what transpired in August of last year in Glenhill and in other parts of the city?

That question lingers, doubts persist, and the risk remains. I hope that the Minister will reassure the people of Glenhill and of other parts of Belfast who, over many years, have suffered the danger of flooding.

Photo of Paul Maskey Paul Maskey Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I thank the Member for bringing the debate to the Floor. I concur with what he said. As someone who lives in that area, I know well the consequences of what was faced on 16 August 2008. That day, I was stuck in my car for about two and a half hours due to the underpass being flooded and the diversion that was in place around Belfast. When we managed to get home, I made a record of the number of phone calls that I received and made that evening: there were around 50 or 60, many from residents who had phoned me, and I phoned them back or contacted the Departments.

I agree with Alex Attwood that the issue of flooding is relevant not only to the Department for Regional Development but to other Departments. That evening, I contacted the Roads Service, the Rivers Agency, which is an agency within the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, and the Housing Executive, which is the responsibility of the Department for Social Development. I also contacted Belfast City Council and many other bodies that evening. The last phone calls that I took and made were around 11.30 pm. That was after being out in some of the affected areas, where I saw at first hand the state in which places were left after the heavy downpour that occurred that evening.

We spoke to people about the flooding of their homes. Glenhill took the brunt of that because the Blackstaff River burst. When we went there and inspected the area outside people’s homes, we saw that manholes had blown off and water was going 20 ft or 30 ft into the air, which destroyed many homes in the area. The extent of the damage could still be seen days afterwards. People have only recently returned to some of those houses.

The issue of insurance companies has been raised. If there is anything that the Assembly can do, it is to put pressure on insurance companies to step up to the mark. Many of the people who have been affected will not be able to insure their homes again, and there are still delays with some payments, not only in Glenhill but in many other areas of west Belfast and, I am sure, throughout the North of Ireland.

I have copies of correspondence from 18 August 2008, which was the Monday following the flood. Those are letters from my office to the various Departments, stating clearly that we want to get the issue resolved. On 18 August, we called for a full investigation into why the flooding occurred and how it was allowed to happen again after it had happened in previous years. That put the marker down to the Departments that we wanted a full investigation to be carried out because we did not want to see anything similar again.

Photo of Jennifer McCann Jennifer McCann Sinn Féin

Does the Member agree that, beyond the scenario of the 16 August flooding, there were and still are major roads in and out of west Belfast — in particular in the Colin area, the main Stewartstown Road, the Cherry Road and Summerhill Road — that flood when there is heavy rain? Does he agree that that is down to the lack of adequate drainage systems on those main arterial routes?

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Paul Maskey Paul Maskey Sinn Féin

Thank you, a LeasCheann Comhairle, agus go raibh maith agat fosta, a Jennifer. There are many issues and that is why we called for the investigation into how the problems occurred. The Department for Regional Development has carried out some investigations. From a very early stage, among our priorities was making sure that lessons are learned from that incident because it must not be allowed to be repeated.

Mr Attwood mentioned the Rivers Agency on a number of occasions. After the source of the flooding was identified, most of the responsibility for sorting it out lay with that agency. We called for the agency to make it a paramount priority in its work scheme to ensure that the necessary work was urgently carried out after the surveys.

I regret that individuals in the Rivers Agency told us that the situation would be sorted out as a matter of urgency. Some of the correspondence that I received from the Rivers Agency stated that the matter would be given high priority, and, at that stage, I was told that it was hoped that the work would be carried out by mid-February. I sent a letter to the Rivers Agency in which I welcomed that development and said that I hoped that the work would be done. I also said that, if they encountered any problems that would prevent them from resolving the matter by mid-February, I would try, in my role as an elected representative for West Belfast, to assist them in overruling any difficulties. However, I was left in no doubt that the Rivers Agency was still hopeful that the work would be carried out by mid-February.

After speaking to residents who informed me that the work had not been carried out by March, April or even May, I phoned the Rivers Agency. Indeed, the work has not been carried out as yet. I ask the Minister for Regional Development to take that forward to the Executive, particularly to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, given that the Rivers Agency falls within her remit. I have raised this issue to ensure that that happens, and we have received correspondence saying that it is hoped that the work will be done in the near future. Since the Minister for Regional Development is in the Chamber, as Alex Attwood said, it would be remiss of Members not to take the opportunity to urge him to raise with the Minister of the Environment some of the issues that have been mentioned.

Through talking to people, we see that they are upset greatly by what happened, and we must ensure that the effects of any future heavy rainfall are reduced. Nobody could have accounted for the rainfall of somewhere over 60 mm that fell that night. According to different forecasts, the rainfall was higher, but we cannot say that there will not be such heavy rainfall again. It is hoped that it will not rain so heavily again, but all efforts must be made to ensure that such flooding does not happen again. We must pull out all the stops to ensure that the required work is carried out.

People’s kitchens and homes were devastated. Council representatives went into the local leisure centres and assisted people. That may or may not have been good enough. I know that the Minister for Regional Development, along with the Minister of the Environment, was on site in parts of west Belfast a few days after the heavy rain; in fact, it might have been the day after the rainfall. People came out and tried to help.

I visited some houses, and I saw that the heavy rain was coming in through the roof and that water was coming down walls and into fuse boxes. I mentioned the Housing Executive earlier, because I was in a house in Lenadoon, which is not far from the Andersonstown area. A subcontractor from the Housing Executive had fitted a new fuse box recently in that house, and there was silver paper around a fuse that had blown at some stage. That put someone’s life at risk. That example demonstrates that dealing with the effects of the floods is the responsibility of many Departments.

I have written to the Department for Regional Development again regarding some parts of the drainage system in Kennedy Way in the Andersonstown area. I have been rapping people’s doors recently, and they have been telling me that it has been a while since the drainage system has been cleared. I would like to think that Roads Service can and should check the drainage system more regularly, because, as has been said, a lot of new developments have been built recently in west Belfast, and, by the look of things, a lot more will be built in the future. Checks should be made to see whether the infrastructure is in place to allow that to happen. As well as that, the drainage system should be checked regularly.

Photo of Fra McCann Fra McCann Sinn Féin 4:15 pm, 19th May 2009

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I commend the Member for securing the Adjournment debate. This is an issue that had an impact on many thousands of people across Belfast last August. Although the rainfall of that period was extreme and unusual, it raised a number of problems that need to be addressed for the future.

I remember the outcry when the new underpass on the Westlink was flooded. People asked how that could happen to such a new and modern road. For the people whom I represent, the flooding of the Westlink was a blessing. Had it not happened, areas such as St James’s and the Village would have found themselves under many feet of water. However, that is not unusual for the people of those areas; they have grown up with vivid memories of their areas being flooded.

Many people say that it is great to live beside a worldwide nature reserve such as the Bog Meadows. However, that brings with it many problems, one of which is periodic flooding. Many rivers flow from Black Mountain and Divis Mountain to the Bog Meadows, and from there they flow into rivers that run through local communities. Many older residents say that, in the past, sluice gates at the junction of the old Donegall Road roundabout and Broadway were closed at times of heavy rain to ensure that the city centre was not flooded. The result was that communities in that area bore the brunt of flooding.

Recently, people in areas such as Beechmount, parts of the Falls Road and Andersonstown and many other parts of the city bore the heartache of having their homes damaged by floods. Many of those people are still trying to put their lives and homes back in order. We must ask whether we learned anything from that and whether we are prepared for the next floods. We must also ask whether we did enough for those who suffered from the serious events of 2008.

The fundamental issue is ensuring that we are prepared for that type of emergency in future. Many local people say that the inspection and cleaning of street gullies is a problem. In the St James’s area, many gullies were blocked during the last floods. The problem must be rectified by regular checks.

Work that is carried out by utility companies and Departments leaves a patchwork of repairs across roads. That impacts on drainage and leaves many uneven road surfaces, which results in water lying in large pools. That causes major problems, which, if not dealt with, add to serious flooding at times of heavy rain.

The ongoing development of land along the heights of west Belfast is the biggest problem. Previously, that land might have soaked up the surplus water that now flows through channels to flood the lower ground. That puts a twofold pressure on the system: at times of flooding, sewage pours from sewers; and rivers burst their banks. Many new housing developments have not been thought out fully. Rather than being part of a longer-term strategy, housing is built in small developments.

Photo of Jennifer McCann Jennifer McCann Sinn Féin

Does the Member agree that not enough thought goes into the planning of drainage for such developments? I am thinking, in particular, of some areas of Poleglass, such as Glenkeen, where two families’ homes have been routinely flooded during the past 20 to 25 years. When those homes were built, not enough thought was given to the planning of drainage for surplus water in heavy rain.

Photo of Fra McCann Fra McCann Sinn Féin

That is a fair point. In developments on Suffolk Road, some of the pumping systems that were installed to deal with sewage have been unable to cope, and sewage has been running into local rivers.

Small housing developments put pressures on a system that was not designed to take such a flow of sewage or water. I realise that the Minister for Regional Development is in the Chamber, but this is a multi-departmental problem that can only be sorted out by taking a multi-departmental approach. Planners, the Department for Social Development, the Rivers Agency and other bodies must play their part. If we are to tackle the problem, we need to take a co-ordinated approach that the Executive should oversee.

At present, there is a lull in the construction industry because of the serious economic problems. What better time is there to develop a strategy that will deal with flooding problems? If we do not grasp the nettle, we will undoubtedly be back, time and again, to ask the same old question: where did we go wrong? The people of west Belfast demand leadership, and it is up to us to ensure that that leadership is provided.

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

A LeasCheann Comhairle, I thank Members for the debate. It is clear from the contributions of Alex Attwood and other Members that this is a cross-departmental issue, and the response to it should also be cross-departmental. Nevertheless, in a debate such as this, only one Minister responds, and I will endeavour to answer some of the points that have been raised. However, some points clearly relate to the Rivers Agency, which falls under the remit of DARD; others relate to planning matters and how some of the Housing Executive’s properties were maintained. I will endeavour to answer for the other Departments as best I can. Some specific points have been made, and, if I cannot answer them, I will ensure that a copy of the Hansard report is distributed to the relevant Ministers, and I will ask them to respond in writing.

Comments have been made about the ongoing flooding issues, such as surface water on roads and so on. However, the specific incident is the severe flooding that occurred on 16 August 2008, which was caused by extreme levels of heavy, persistent rainfall. It is estimated that between 60 mm and 80 mm of rain fell during the day, which exceeded the total rainfall that would normally be expected for the whole month. As a result, the design capacity of the drainage network was exceeded, and, in some places, totally overwhelmed. That was compounded by the rainfall, which caused surcharging of rivers and watercourses into which the drainage system would normally discharge.

In retrospect, it is widely acknowledged that no sewerage system could have coped with rainfall of that intensity. Consequently, although Northern Ireland Water will continue to monitor and improve its network to reduce the risk of future flooding, it must be recognised that it is not possible to guarantee that such flooding will not reoccur in similar weather conditions.

NIW has advised that there were two main localised flooding incidents in the Andersonstown Road and Falls Road areas that related to infrastructural problems on 16 August 2008. As Paul Maskey said, I had the opportunity on Sunday 17 August, the day after the flooding, to visit east Belfast, the Beechmount area and the Broadway underpass, which drew most of the media attention. However, the most difficult issues to face were those that involved the flooding of people’s homes. My sympathy is with the people affected. Unfortunately, during the previous summer, I had to visit homes in east Belfast and in the Lower Ormeau areas where flooding had also occurred.

There is a responsibility on all Government agencies and Departments to do everything that is reasonable and possible to ensure that those incidents do not happen again, or, if they do, that it is not as a consequence of the failure of a system that has been put in place by the various Government agencies.

There was localised flooding in the vicinity of numbers 117 to 119 Stockman’s Lane. That general area is upstream of the upper Falls wastewater pumping station, which was overwhelmed as a result of the exceptional conditions on that day. Although attributed to the conditions at that time, the main sewer in Stockman’s Lane, which runs through Shane Retail Park, has since been de-silted as a precaution. It was also found that a parallel road drainage line was heavily silted, and the Roads Service has subsequently addressed that matter.

Alex Attwood gave us fairly graphic details of what happened at Glenhill Park, and my sympathy is with the people affected. NIW was on site following the flooding on 16 August 2008, and an inspection indicated that a Rivers Agency culvert to the rear of the houses in Glenhill Park surcharged and caused flooding in the area. The sewerage system was, in turn, overwhelmed as the flood material entered the NIW system. That area is off the Glen Road and under the shadow of Black Hill, from where the run-off to that river would originate.

I understand that Rivers Agency officials met the residents and their representatives the week after the event, and the emergency interim works proposed to reduce the risk of the recurrence of flooding were carried out within one week of that meeting. Further long-term work is proposed by the Rivers Agency to replace the pipes where the blockage occurred, to which Alex Attwood referred. That work is programmed for June and July 2009, pending approval by the Drainage Council, and I understand the point made by Alex Attwood and Paul Maskey that people expected that work to have happened earlier. I sincerely hope that Drainage Council approval will be forthcoming. However, I will raise the issue with the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to try to ensure that the work that residents were promised will be carried out as quickly as possible.

NIW is not aware of any other particular flooding in the Andersonstown, Beechmount, Falls or Westlink areas relating to defects in infrastructure. Of course, if any Member has concerns about a specific location, I will arrange for Northern Ireland Water to investigate and report back to the Member.

With regard to road drainage, the extreme flooding that occurred on that Saturday and Sunday in August was not caused by any failure to maintain the operational effectiveness of the storm water gullies or the road drainage system. The road drainage infrastructure was simply overwhelmed by the deluge of rain that fell on Saturday 16 August 2008. Although the torrential rainfall throughout that Saturday was particularly bad, resulting in some of the worst flooding in recent times, it had been preceded by other spells of very wet weather.

It is also clear that, while a large number of roads were flooded, this was in the vast majority of cases caused by rivers overflowing. As a result, very few of the roads-related flooding incidents were caused by shortcomings in the road drainage infrastructure. Generally, the road drainage infrastructure was fully operational and simply overwhelmed by the intensity and duration of the rain.

The Broadway underpass flooding was mentioned, and I have previously reported to the Assembly that Roads Service has commissioned an independent review of the issues associated with the design and the operational response to the flooding incident. The independent report on the flooding incident at Broadway has been received, and its conclusions and recommendations have been accepted in full. A number of recommended measures have been implemented to ensure public safety. Roads Service, in partnership with the Rivers Agency and the contractor, has also commissioned a physical and mathematical model and study of the Clowney /Blackstaff river system that flows through Broadway to help us understand the river system and identify any additional mitigation measures that could be put in place to further reduce the possibility of a recurrence of flooding incidents. That report is due in June.

Members will be aware that responsibility for drainage infrastructure is shared between my Department and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development through Rivers Agency, Roads Service and NI Water, the three main drainage organisations. The proceedings for liaison and co-ordination of emergency response between the three organisations are set out in the inter-agency flooding information pack.

There is also a shared flooding hot spot list which identifies areas at greatest risk of flooding and the lead drainage organisation for each location. Those organisations also take the lead in the development and implementation of measures to reduce the likelihood of future flooding at those hot spots. In addition, hot spot lists are held by each of the drainage organisations, and they each have their own programmes for dealing with those on a priority basis.

In the case of Roads Service, the problems encountered at flooding locations are not always easy to resolve, as the solution may be prohibitively expensive or not immediately obvious. Even with the most careful and thorough of planning, gullies, road drainage and watercourses can simply be overwhelmed by a deluge of rain falling within a short period.

Roads Service has plans in place to deal with road-related flooding incidents which ensure that a 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week response is available. Roads Service co-ordinates with and works alongside NI Water, Rivers Agency and the other responding organisations, including the PSNI, local councils, the Fire and Rescue Service and other statutory agencies as far as possible to ensure a quick and appropriate response to flooding incidents.

In its response to flooding, Roads Service seeks to restore normality to flooded roads, having regard to the safety of members of the public and Roads Service personnel, the prevention of traffic disruption and the protection of homes and property. If Roads Service becomes aware of roads that are flooded, signs are erected, where practicable, advertising the possible risks to road users. However, in the event of widespread flooding, resources are targeted at busier routes which carry a greater volume of traffic.

Roads Service has a programme of planned maintenance to ensure that the network remains safe and serviceable. Priorities are assessed using information obtained from condition surveys, other work programmes and professional engineering assessments by Roads Service engineers. Roads Service also aims to inspect and clean, where necessary, all gullies in urban areas twice a year. That point was raised by Fra McCann. That policy ensures that a reasonable level of maintenance is carried out to drainage systems —

Photo of Fra McCann Fra McCann Sinn Féin 4:30 pm, 19th May 2009

It may be well and good that the drains are inspected. However, continuous work is carried out on roads and streets, and a lot of rubble and stuff goes into drains and blocks them. Recently, I was in touch with Roads Service in relation to Beechmount Avenue and other places where, continuously, there are puddles of water which in heavy rain rise over kerbs towards the level of houses. It is a constant concern for residents. The process needs to be improved.

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

I take the Member’s point. Where utilities or contractors building houses interfere with roads, a bond is paid. They are required to reinstate the road to the condition that it was in before the work. If there are particular issues in relation to the inspection of that and the impact that some of it has in gullies and the ability of the road to drain, I will bring it to the attention of Roads Service. If the Member has some particular instances in mind, in Beechmount or elsewhere, I will bring them to the attention of Roads Service. However, there is a requirement on anyone who interferes through work with the road surface or drainage to reinstate the condition of the road.

In addition to the scheduled operations on road gullies, clearing of blocked gullies is carried out, particularly where fallen leaves represent an ongoing problem at certain times of the year or where there is a history of gullies becoming blocked for other reasons.

After the flooding incident in August 2008, I asked Roads Service to carry out an internal review of its response and procedures. From that review, an action plan was developed that covered a number of aspects of Roads Service’s flooding response. Those action points are now being implemented.

Over the past 12 months, Roads Service and the other two agencies that deal with drainage have put considerable time and effort into developing a flooding incident line. The telephone number for that service was released in January 2009 and is now available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I fully appreciate that it is important for people to know who to contact for help when they are faced with the possibility of their house being flooded. Members of the public no longer have to decide which organisation to ring; they can simply contact the flooding incident line, where the details of the incident will be recorded and passed to the relevant agency.

As I said, I can assure Members that, having visited a number of sites over the past couple of years, I am aware of the trauma and stress that flooding causes, particularly when the system becomes overwhelmed and sewage leaks into the flood water. I am also aware of the responsibility that Government agencies have to do everything that is reasonably possible to ensure that such incidents do not reoccur.

Some Members raised issues relating to planning. If planning policies, such as PPS 15, are found to be deficient, they should be looked at. That is particularly the case in relation to areas such as west Belfast or east Belfast, where people are continuing to build develop­ments in the Castlereagh hills. The potential redevelop­ment of the Glen 10 sites in the Glenmona area of west Belfast will create drainage and sewage issues for those developments and the developments below them, because water will run down the hill to those lower sites, where it will not be absorbed into the ground.

I am quite happy to discuss such planning issues with the Minister of the Environment to ensure that, with future developments, it is not only the requirements for those developments that are taken into account but the knock-on effect of those developments on the surrounding area. Members raised some other issues that are the direct responsibility of other Ministers. I will ensure that the Hansard report is studied and that we bring those issues to the attention of the relevant Departments.

I accept the argument that all agencies have a responsibility to work together. Obviously, there is more scope for that now that we have a local Executive and Ministers who are able to bring agencies together. On the Sunday after the flooding incident last August, the Minister of the Environment and I managed to pull together a number of agencies and get an immediate report on what was happening. We should take full advantage of that facility to ensure that all agencies work together. As the Minister responsible for Roads Service and NIW, I will ensure that those agencies, as well as others, play their full part in doing that.

Once again, I thank the Members for their contributions. More than one Department has responsibility for this issue, and I endeavoured to answer questions about some of the issues for which other Ministers have responsibility. However, I will ensure that those issues are addressed and that Members get the proper response from the Ministers concerned. Go raibh míle maith agat.

Adjourned at 4.38 pm.