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Sunday 21 September 2014

Spend on flood defence needs to double

Superstorm Christine did €300m of damage

Published 12/01/2014 | 02:30

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Martin Folan from Galway City Council looks on as flood waters begin to drain away from the Galway Atlantaquaria and Claude Toft Park in Salthill on Monday. Photo: Declan Monaghan
Martin Folan from Galway City Council looks on as flood waters begin to drain away. Photo: Declan Monaghan

Ireland faces having to double spending on flood defences amid warnings that super-storms will become more frequent and damaging.

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Office of Public Works (OPW) Minister Brian Hayes admitted in the wake of Superstorm Christine and the devastating Christmas weather that Ireland is not spending enough on flood and coastal defences.

Estimates have put the total cost of the damage at more than €300m, with fears that the levels of claims could hit insurance premiums.

Hundreds of traders and residents already face the prospect of being refused future flood insurance cover. Clare Co Council alone has estimated the damage at more than €23m, with Lahinch's entire promenade destroyed.

Youghal in east Cork saw its new €250,000 timber boardwalk reduced to matchsticks. Engineers in Tramore fought to save the Waterford town's Strand Road from a sink-hole caused by a giant wave.

Cape Clear Island off west Cork also suffered major damage to its piers and jetty.

Ireland currently spends €45m each year on flood defences but Mr Hayes acknowledged that more needs to be invested.

In contrast, Britain's prime minister David Cameron has vowed to increase flood and coastal defence spending to a whopping €2.3bn a year.

Mr Hayes said Ireland urgently needed to "ramp up" spending to protect vulnerable areas such as Cork, which is acknowledged as Ireland's most flood-prone city.

"The €250m we have over a five-year envelope, we will be spending at least €45m this year and we continue to ramp up expenditure," he said.

"We need to spend more on flood-relief schemes because by comparison to other European countries we are not as well prepared."

Cork city has been hit by four floods since 2009. The 2009 flood, which was exacerbated by the collapse of a city quay wall, forced the evacuation of a hospital and hotels, closed the city's main water plant and left a damages bill of more than €100m.

That flood left parts of the city centre cut off -- but areas such as Blackpool and Douglas have since been hit by localised flooding.

Work on a long-delayed city flood-defence plan has yet to commence after a painstaking consultation process.

Mr Hayes vowed to fast-track the scheme, which he said he hoped would be ready for construction from 2015.

But both Cork Chamber of Commerce and Cork Business Association expressed concern that it would not become operational before 2017.

"This is not a problem of funding," said Mr Hayes. "We want to get the scheme right. We need to make progress for Cork because these events happen too often.

"I am confident that the new scheme will make a huge difference. This is not a problem of money in terms of the major relief scheme we intend to bring on site. It is crucial we get to that stage."

Flood-defence schemes have already proven their value in towns like Clonmel, Mallow and Fermoy, where disastrous floods have been avoided over recent years.

The Fermoy scheme, which is currently half-finished on the River Blackwater, will cost around €32m.

In contrast, estimates for Cork city's scheme have ranged from €70m to €100m.

The OPW insisted that no final costing had been reached. The scheme will be the most complex ever attempted by the OPW, given Cork's location, geography and multiple river channels. The city has more bridges per square kilometre than Venice.

A central element of the proposed scheme is the installation of €1m flood barriers along the city quays.

Areas notoriously prone to flooding, such as Union Quay, Lavitts Quay, Morrissons Quay, Sharman-Crawford Street, Wansford Quay and Fr Mathew Quay, will have the barriers erected by council staff before flood alerts.

Irish Independent

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