Wednesday 28 September 2016

State flood-risk group 'failed to meet for six years'

Lack of clarity and oversight on how projects were managed

Published 06/04/2016 | 02:30

OPW Minister Simon Harris .Photo: Tom Burke
OPW Minister Simon Harris .Photo: Tom Burke

Thousands of vulnerable families at risk of flooding have been failed by the State, with no proper oversight of projects and the failure of a high-level group tasked with overseeing flood defences to meet for almost six years.

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A report from the State spending watchdog also finds that almost €330m has been spent on flood defences without the necessary evidence to demonstrate that best value is being achieved.

The 'Special Report on Strategic Planning for Flood Risk Management' reveals how the high-level interdepartmental group established to oversee the spending failed to meet for almost six years.

The group stopped meeting in September 2009, it finds. In November that year, severe flooding across large parts of the country caused extensive damage totalling €244m. The International Red Cross classified flooding in Cork as being on the scale of a world disaster.

There are also questions as to why the report was not published until yesterday, despite being given to Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin on January 8, the month after Storm Desmond caused devastation across large parts of the midlands and around the River Shannon.

Insurance Ireland said preliminary estimates suggested that €65m of damages was caused. Despite the damning report being available, it was not published in the run-up to the General Election.

The Comptroller and Auditor General report said that in 2004, the Flood Policy Review Group recommended that future flood-risk assessments should be carried out at river- basin level, with maps to be produced setting out the areas at risk. The Office of Public Works (OPW), as the lead authority, began work between 2005 and 2008, and in 2009 a national Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management (CFRAM) programme was established.

The report finds:

n The OPW met a March 2012 EU deadline to identify 300 at-risk areas which warranted further assessment.

n But a March 2014 target to submit flood-hazard maps was missed, with maps for just 50 of the 300 areas submitted. The March 2016 deadline has also been missed, with complete plans not expected until the end of the year.

n A steering group established to oversee the CFRAM programme did not meet in the four years up to November 2014. A separate group, charged with overseeing national flood risk co-ordination, failed to meet for six years up to July 2015.

n The OPW decided to operate four pilot projects for the rivers Lee, Dodder and Suir and Fingal/East Meath to set out the measures needed to produce the flood-risk maps. They were costed at €3.5m, but ended up costing €8.9m.

There was a "lack of clarity" about how the projects were managed.

The report also says that between 2005 and 2014, some €329m was spent on flood defences - major works costing €242m, studies costing €52m and minor works costing €35m. Some €430m is budgeted for works until 2021.

But it adds: "In order to derive maximum value from the limited funds available, it is essential that funding allocation decisions are evidence-based. However, 12 years on from the report of the Flood Policy Review Group and eight years after the EU Floods Directive, substantial capital expenditure continues to be incurred on an annual basis without the full benefit of the comprehensive analysis and strategic plans that will emerge from the CFRAM programme."

The OPW said that the high-level group chaired by OPW Minister Simon Harris did not meet because the CFRAM programme involved "mainly technical work" and a meeting was not required. It added that all capital investment was based on "verified significant flood risk" and "robust economic appraisal", and was signed off by the Government.

Irish Independent

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