€9.5m flood defences for Galway 'are not worth the expense'
Galway city is among more than two dozen urban areas which may never get flood defences because the cost of doing works exceeds the damages which would arise if nothing was done.
The City of the Tribes, hammered this week during Storm Eleanor, is one of 28 areas including Navan, Cavan, Cobh, Celbridge and Portlaoise where a flood risk exists, but where the business case for completing works does not stack up.
OPW Minister Kevin 'Boxer' Moran has said that defences for Galway are a priority.
But that is despite an in-depth assessment by officials in his department which suggests that the works have a cost-benefit ratio of less than one. This means that the cost of completing works is more than the economic cost of replacing properties that would be destroyed in a worst-case scenario.
In Galway city, the works are costed at €9.5m. But the cost of repairing severe flood damage in the city is estimated as substantially less at €8.2m. Some 890 properties are at risk in the city.
Flood defences costed at more than €835m nationally have been identified by the OPW, and later this month the Government is expected to set out plans to prioritise 47 schemes from at least 130 identified. It will have to decide if works in at-risk areas should be completed, even if they don't technically represent value for money.
If schemes do not go ahead, homeowners and businesses may be unable to secure flood insurance, putting homes and livelihoods at risk. The insurance industry has indicated it will only provide cover where defences are in place.
In all, some 1,900 homes in areas including Monaghan, Carrigaline, Ratoath and Rush could be at risk of being swamped by flood waters because the cost of protection cannot be justified on economic grounds alone. Schemes may have to be revised, or a decision taken that the works are justified due to the sheer number of properties to be protected.
The plans completed by the OPW are based on a one-in-100 year flood event, or something with a 1pc chance of occurring in a given year. In major urban areas, consideration could be given for more expensive schemes, or the plans revised to cover the most vulnerable areas.
The OPW assessment suggests that works are needed to protect almost 26,000 properties across the State. If no works are completed, damages of up to €3.2bn could arise.
Flood relief works are designed not just to protect homes, but also transport links, water treatment plants and other essential infrastructure. The overall cost of the works required in the areas where the business case doesn't stack up totals almost €79m. The damages which might arise come to €61.8m.
The situation is complicated by the fact that many of the at-risk towns are projected to see substantial population increases over the coming years, and will need protection to protect commercial cores.