Councils warned they will lose flood defence funding if projects delayed
Flooding Minister Kevin 'Boxer' Moran has warned local authorities that they will lose out on funding for flood defence schemes unless they fast-track projects.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, he said delays to defence schemes could not be justified and called on local authorities to work more closely with his department to get projects under way.
Some 14 schemes under construction or in planning have been subject to delays of up to four years, and the Office of Public Works (OPW) Minister said he planned to appoint officials to work with local authorities to "speed up the process".
Mr Moran said that in some cases, local authorities "did not appear" to be "tuned in" with the OPW.
In the case of projects subject to lengthy delays, he said other schemes should be allocated the funding.
"You can't (defend delays)," he said. "There's planning (issues), and in other cases local authorities don't appear to be tuned in with the OPW.
"If the money is not being drawn down, let Galway or other schemes come in and start working with them. I want local authorities to speed up the process.
"The OPW has to do reviews, but in some cases when we ask local authorities the speed between the two is not working. I want to put an official working with the local authorities to deliver these schemes faster."
The OPW has identified 130 flood defence projects for at-risk areas, with 47 to be prioritised in the Government's 10-year capital plan, expected to be announced next month.
Some €430m is currently allocated for flood defences, but in some cases the cost of completing schemes will be more expensive than dealing with the damages which might arise if nothing was done. Mr Moran has said he will need at least €1bn in public money to eliminate flood risk in urban areas and identify problems in rural counties.
He has previously said that urban areas including Galway - hit with major flooding this week by Storm Eleanor - would be prioritised for works.
In the case of Galway, a scheme has been costed at €9.5m, but the damages which might arise is below this amount.
The most recent figures show that 11 flood defence schemes are current under construction, costed at €71m, with another 17 at design or planning stage. They are expected to cost almost €215m.
However, progress reports from the OPW show that some should have already been completed, with many in planning well behind schedule.
Detailed design of a €20m scheme planned for Clonakilty in Cork only got under way in 2016, two years later than expected, and the project is only now being tendered.
A scheme on the River Dodder was due to be completed last year, but is not expected in the second half of this year.
Works on a €25m defence project in Skibbereen in Cork were due to begin in September 2014 and it is now scheduled for completion in 2019.
Mr Moran said there was "no use" in having money to spend unless projects were ready to proceed.
He said he was examining the planning process to see if it was causing undue delays, and that he wanted to deliver schemes while in office.
He also said that more work was needed to map coastal erosion and areas under threat, and that in some cases people would be disappointed to learn they lived in a flood-risk area, as highlighted by OPW maps produced under the CFRAM (Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management) programme.
"If we don't put enough effort into coastal erosion will eventually start losing buildings as well as land," he said. "There's poison in CFRAM. When you see a blue dot you mightn't get insurance. There's no point spending €38m on a plan if I don't have money to deliver for those people."
The priority schemes are currently subject to independent review before the Department of Finance approves the projects, with a decision expected next month.