Cork told to reach agreement on flood defence or lose funding

Cork told to reach agreement on flood defence or lose funding
A computer-generated view of the planned OPW flood defences outside the Mercy Hospital.

THE Office of Public Works (OPW) and the Save Cork City (SCC) group have been told to sit down and discuss Cork's flood defences by an Oireachtas committee or risk losing Government funding.

The two groups were grilled about their flood defence proposals by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht affairs.

The OPW is hoping to press ahead with flood defences that include extensive quay walls in the coming months which are estimated to take over 10 years to be completed and cost in the region of €140m, while SCC says an independent report they commissioned by UK-based hydro-engineering firm HR Wallingford proves a tidal barrier is a better solution for tidal and fluvial flooding and will cost a similiar amount.

Committee member, TD Danny Healy-Rae, urged the two groups to settle their differences or face the Government money being assigned elsewhere, while former OPW Minister Sean Canney said there would have to be “some pain to make gains” in the construction of defences.

The flood barrier proposal from Save Cork City that would act as an alternative to the city-centre flood defences.
The flood barrier proposal from Save Cork City that would act as an alternative to the city-centre flood defences.

OPW Commissioner John Sydenham told the committee that the raising of quay walls to a maximum of under 2ft in places was the only “technically viable” and “cost beneficial” solution and maximised the use of existing hydroelectric storage.

He said the OPW's Lower Lee Flood Relief Scheme would prevent one in 100-year events cause by flooding from the River Lee and one in 200-year events caused by tidal flooding.

He added that €20m of the estimated €140m cost of the works would be spent on repairing existing quay walls and said over 100 historic structural designs would be protected by the measures.

Mr Sydenham described the interventions of raised quay walls as “modest” and said they would “free people of Cork from the stress of flooding”.

However, SCC's John Hegarty, an architect based in Cork city, said his research had indicated the majority of people in the city do not want flood defences of quay walls and they would affect the "irreplaceable" character of Cork He stated OPW costs on walls were inadequate, and their €1bn estimate of a tidal barrier is an “exaggeration of cost”.

He said quay walls would be a significant waste of public funds and lead to mass destruction of heritage. He said businesses would not survive due to construction disruption and the possible overtopping of walls in the event of sea levels rising would pose “serious risk to life” in the city.

Ezra MacManamon of the OPW admitted that construction would cause considerable disruption in Cork but this would be kept to a minimum.

He said the first phase of OPW works at Morrison's Island will protect hundreds of homes and businesses at Grand Parade and Oliver Plunkett Street, while the second phase from Inniscarra to Kingsley Hotel will cause little disruption.

The third phase, he added, is from the Kingsley to the Tyndall Institute, an area “does not have a lot of traffic”.

In total, he said, the scheme will protect 2,100 city properties.

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