CORK city, its people and its businesses are at "the greatest level of risk" without adequate flood defences but the cost of the Lower Lee Flood Relief Scheme has risen beyond the initial €140m estimate due to delays.
Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works (OPW) Patrick O’Donovan was in the city today to meet with the Lord Mayor and the CEO of Cork City Council to discuss progress on the scheme, the largest such project in the history of the State, for Cork city.
Minister O’Donovan said progress on the scheme is essential to protect homes and businesses from the "catastrophic damage" that could be caused by further flooding in the city, as well as the potential future loss of life.
"I know this city, I studied here - I went to UCC.
"I know the impact that flooding has had. I know the impact, in particular the 2009 event, had," he said.
The Minister claimed delivering the scheme is a priority for the OPW and the Government and he would be eager to see boots on the ground as soon as possible.
"We have seen modifications and changes made to the scheme, but the scheme now is the scheme and we need to deliver it," he said.
"The process as it currently stands does allow people to have an input but at some stage, you have to draw a line and move on as well and I hope that we’re coming to that situation now," he added.
The brakes have been put on the first phase of the flood defences at Morrison’s Island, being carried out separately by Cork City Council but partly funded by the OPW who are working closely with the council on it, as campaign group Save Cork City has applied to the High Court for a judicial review of An Bord Pleanála’s decision to approve the works.
Minister O’Donovan said people need to be afforded the opportunity to object but said that Cork city is in a "very vulnerable situation" at present and protecting the city needs to be the priority.
"There has to be an opportunity for people to have an input.
"There has to be an opportunity for people to engage with their councillors and confront a situation and challenge a situation because in many times it makes it better, but there also has to be an end game and the end game has to come at some stage soon, notwithstanding the fact that there’s a process here, to protect this city," he said.
The Minister said the need for adequate flood defences in the city is vital given the fact that our climate is rapidly changing.
A figure of €140m was initially cited for the LLFRS based on 2016 construction cost figures, but delays to the project have meant that "without doubt" that figure has risen, the Minister said.
"Every time there’s a delay and every time there’s another period of time added onto it, just taking building inflation alone, it’s going to go up and it’s going to continue to rise.
"Every time there’s a delay, there are more properties being put at risk, there are more businesses being put at risk, the price goes up and ultimately, it’s also about the reputation of Cork as a place to invest in, as a place to live in, as a place to enjoy, as a place to rear children in,” he said.
"The sooner we can put boots on the ground, the better," he continued.
The LLFRS will span 15 kilometres of the River Lee from west of Ballincollig to the eastern tip of the Cork city island.
The OPW says the scheme will protect 900 homes and 1,200 businesses against tidal and river flooding.
The scheme has been heavily criticised by Save Cork City who have lobbied for a tidal barrier at Lough Mahon.
Criticism levelled at the OPW scheme has included the potential damage to the city’s historic stone quays and criticism over the public’s access to the river.
Chief Executive of Cork City Council Ann Doherty said that the judicial process in relation to Morrison’s Island will be respected but that the project is ready to go to tender if the green light is given.
"If the outcome is favourable to the project then we’ll be ready to start," she said.
OPW chartered engineer Ezra Mac Manamon explained that the Lower Lee Scheme has to go to its own consent process which hasn’t started yet.
"That process will be towards the end of this year/the start of next year and that will take about six to nine months," he said.