Friday 20 October 2017

Towns warned of danger of blocking protection works

Minister says affected communities may have to accept high walls or 'face the consequences'

OPW and Flood Relief Minister Sean Canney says towns ‘cannot be forced into a solution’. Photo: Tom Burke
OPW and Flood Relief Minister Sean Canney says towns ‘cannot be forced into a solution’. Photo: Tom Burke
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

Communities that choose not to allow flood defences to be erected will have to "understand the consequences", Office of Public Works (OPW) Minister Sean Canney has warned.

While in some cases only an engineering solution would provide the appropriate level of protection, Mr Canney said people could not be "forced into a solution" and extensive public consultation would be required to determine the best approach.

His comments come after the Irish Independent this week revealed that the State will have to spend almost €850m building defences across at-risk communities, to avoid damages of up to €3.2bn in the event of a worst-case scenario.

Works to protect almost 26,000 properties in major towns and cities across almost all counties are required, with almost 200km of flood defence walls proposed, some up to three metres high.

Read more: Dozens of towns will never get protection from floods because sums do not add up

However, people living in some at-risk areas including Cork city insist that the proposed measures will destroy its historic setting and character, and have called for them to be redesigned.

"There have been public consultation days through the whole process, and amendments are being built into each plan based on what local people are saying," Mr Canney said. "The public have a right to make submissions.

"We have issues where people don't want big, high defence walls. You will have a conflict between what to the eye might not look right, but to protect properties you might have to put in. If people don't want something, they will have to understand the consequences.

"At the end of the day, if only an engineering solution will provide protection and people don't want it, what can you do? You can't force people into a situation. We have a huge consultation process, and will take views on board, but at the end of the day a decision has to be made."

Some €430m has been allocated for flood defences between 2016 and 2021 under the capital spending plan. Since 1995, around €430m has been spent, which has resulted in 12,000 properties across the State being protected. Details of the schemes required to address flooding in urban at-risk areas will be sent to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for sign-off in the coming weeks, after which priority projects will be identified.

Flood Defence Works Interactive Map

This tool sets out the cost of installing flood defences, the damages which might arise and number of properties under threat, in the most at-risk areas across the State.

It is based on data from the draft Flood Risk Management Plans, produced by the Office of Public Works (OPW), following extensive surveys of 90 coastal communities, and more than 6,500kms of river channel.

The country is divided into 29 Units of Management (UoMs), which are areas covered by a single river basin or covered by a group of smaller rivers. Given its size, works required along the Shannon are set out in three UoM.

Clicking on the icons show the works required in each area.

The urban area is highlighted at the top, and the UoM beneath. The cost of proposed works is set out in €m. The ‘damage uncapped’ figure relates to the total cost of damages to properties and infrastructure which would arise if nothing was done.

The ‘damage’ figure is based on the value of the properties at risk. This figure is used to determine if a scheme should go ahead – if the cost of the damage is less than the cost of providing defences, the scheme may not go ahead. This is the cost-benefit ratio. If it’s less than one, the scheme doesn’t make financial sense.

The final figure is the number of properties protected.

Some icons contain less information. For example, Tullig in Kerry is part of the Castleisland flood defence scheme so no information is contained. The OPW has also identified other areas as being at low risk, or says the existing flood defence regime should be maintained. In other cases it notes the need for a forecasting system, or says if a scheme is underway.

Further information is at http://maps.opw.ie/floodplans/


But in some cases, the costs of completing defence works will be more than the damages expected to arise in the event of a flood. This means they may not go ahead.

"You just can't walk away from the problems," Mr Canney said. "If the engineered way is beyond the costs, you might have to look at lesser schemes under the minor works programme, where schemes of up to €500,000 can be progressed by local authorities. You might also do individual property protection, and we're doing a pilot scheme in Mayo and Tipperary and expect a scheme ready for Government approval in the next couple of months, or use the voluntary relocation scheme."

Some €2m has been set aside for a voluntary relocation scheme for people whose homes were flooded between December 2015 and January 2016, and who face being hit again. The average payout is likely to be some €200,000, and grants will be paid only in cases where flood protection is not available.

Read more: Shannon Airport at risk of being 'swept away' as State could face €3.2bn flood clean-up bill

Most, if not all, of these properties are in rural locations, and addressing flood risk outside the major urban centres will form the next part of the OPW's flood risk assessments.

The minister also said that building in at-risk areas including flood plains could not be tolerated, adding that "people's memories fade" of the devastation which can arise.

"People have suffered long and hard over the years. Just because we've had a very kind winter and spring, doesn't mean the problem has gone away. The seriousness isn't far from everybody's mind. We have to get on with it."

Irish Independent

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