New wave of misery will not be stopped
Defence schemes not even ready to be built
TOWNS devastated by the worst flooding in 300 years face another winter washout, with vital defence schemes not even ready for construction.
And the Government hasn't even begun to assess what parts of the country are most at risk of flooding if there's a repeat of last year's extreme rainfall which cost €250m in insurance claims, an Irish Independent investigation reveals.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen last week announced a €480m flood relief fund for the Office of Public Works (OPW) in its revised capital spending programme.
But just a handful of projects are planned for towns with a history of being flooded -- and it could be up to four years before construction actually begins.
This means a repeat of last November's extreme weather that forced businesses to close and householders to flee their homes would cause similar havoc across the country next winter.
Most local authorities are unprepared to deal with the flood threat.
The investigation also reveals:
- Westmeath County Council has designed a scheme to protect Athlone town centre -- but has been told it is "unlikely" to go ahead before 2015.
- A system to protect homes in Tullamore has yet to be finalised despite being recommended two years ago.
- A scheme for Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, identified back in 2003 is still "under consideration".
- Up to €100m will be needed to protect Cork City, but no work has begun on the project.
- Limerick city and county councils and the OPW have been "in discussions" about flood defences since 2003, but nothing has yet been decided.
The Irish Independent has also learned that studies of our major rivers and coastal areas most at risk have yet to begin, despite a looming EU deadline.
Under the Floods Directive, member states must carry out risk assessments and complete management strategies of areas likely to be flooded by 2015.
The first drafts of just two -- on the rivers Lee in Cork and Dodder in Dublin -- are completed. Work has also started on two others at Fingal/East Meath and the River Suir.
However, work has yet to begin on seven others, with consultants to be appointed by mid-2011.
The looming threat of climate change means Ireland can expect more extreme weather events.
But decades of under-investment in flood defences means the Government is playing catch-up to ensure it keeps its citizens safe.
Just €163m was spent between 2004 and 2008, with capital works carried out in Dublin, Leixlip, Mallow, Clonmel, Ennis, Fermoy and Waterford. In some years, there was an under-spend of budgets because schemes were not ready.
The OPW last night attempted to defend the delays in bringing schemes to completion, insisting towns were protected where money was invested.
"It should be noted that the construction of large-scale flood defences has several stages and is by its nature a lengthy process," a spokesman said.
"Feasibility studies are required which are followed by extensive public consultation and a planning process before construction can even commence.
"Works carried out in Mallow and Clonmel in recent years protected both towns during the floods last November."
However, sources said it could take four years to plan and approve a major scheme before construction begins.
"The reality is it takes a year to appoint a consultant for a big scheme, it takes another year to report and two years for planning before any construction begins," an expert source told the Irish Independent.
"Really up to now there's been no framework or plan. The studies are being commissioned, and their completion and adoption will at least set the agenda.
"There's plenty of problem areas. There's only one rule of flooding -- if it floods once, it will flood again."
Labour's Ciaran Lynch said the devastation caused in Cork city and other towns last year could have been easily avoided.
"These flooded areas were identified 10 years ago, but in the meantime no risk assessments have been carried out."