Save Cork City say a tidal barrier at Little Island is needed to protect Cork from flooding

Save Cork City say a tidal barrier at Little Island is needed to protect Cork from flooding
Save Cork City are proposing a tidal barrier crossing Cork Harbour from Little Island to Passage West that would cost €190m.

MORE than 600 submissions have been made on the flood plans for Cork city, with many split on whether the designs are right for the city.

On one side stands the Office of Public Works, whose engineers and architects claim that current plans are the best option for the city, representing a solution that is both financially viable, economically sound and effective.

On the other stands many concerned Corkonians, including a banner volunteer group called Save Cork City, who have raised questions about the use of concrete walls over green solutions and tidal barriers.

The group claims that the city's heritage is under threat as a result of current designs and has presented its own alternative which favours water storage upriver and a tidal barrier downstream.

The €200 million Lower Lee Flood Relief Scheme is the biggest ever planned in the state and aims to flood-proof more than 2,000 properties in the city centre, including almost 900 homes.

It is three times larger than any other flood prevention scheme previously completed in the state.

The process of developing flood defences for Cork city has come under substantial criticism in recent times, with plans published in December coming almost two years behind schedule.

The urgent need for flood defences in Cork city was illustrated by the devastating flood of 2009 when the city suffered an estimated €100 million in damage.

Major events have followed in 2010 and 2014, which prompted a visit to the city by President Michael D Higgins.

Fears among traders continue to grow according to city business groups, with many still unable to get flood insurance years on.

Pressure grew and the OPW finally revealed its plans for the city in December.

It included a mix of measures, including the construction of direct defences at Iniscarra Bridge, Ballincollig and Carrigrohane.

If approved, walls and embankments would be added in the city centre, with existing walls and bridges heightened to alleviate the issues.

Floodgates would be added in several areas in the city centre, while localised surface water pumps would be installed to deal with minor issues in other areas.

Engineers said that underground value and pump systems would target areas like Oliver Plunkett Street, which has suffered from underground flooding for decades.

The OPW's proposed flood defences at Cornmarket Street.
The OPW's proposed flood defences at Cornmarket Street.

The impact on the visual amenities of the city centre would be minimised by the raising of footpaths in some areas, while a mix of glass and concrete structures would be installed along the quayside to keep the city in touch with the waterways.

Following the publication, it was hoped that construction would commence before the end of 2017, though this seems unlikely now, with OPW officials indicating that further consultation, deliberation and design could take between six and eight months to complete.

Due to the scale of the project, work will take place on a phased basis, with the bulk of work set to completed within a two-year timeframe according to the OPW.

The consultation process attracted substantial interest, including some 600 submissions from the public, with the OPW twice postponing the deadline for submissions to allow for more public engagement.

Attention now turns to assessing these observations and, potentially, factoring elements of it into the final designs.

A spokesperson for the OPW said, "OPW is not yet in a position to confirm the exact number of submissions made but it is certainly in excess of 600. All observations will be considered over the next few weeks, with some consultation possibly to take place over observations which have been received and require clarity."

The spokesperson outlined the next steps in the process.

They said, "When all observations have been considered, the Office of Public Works, in conjunction with its partners Cork City Council, will consider how best to move forward with the process.

"At that stage, observations will be responded to on the points raised.

"If a decision is taken to advance the scheme through detailed design, with whatever changes which may arise following the exhibition process, the process of detailed design will be undertaken over the following six to eight months, with a view to submitting the scheme for confirmation, as required under the Arterial Drainage Acts, to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform toward the end of the year."

The OPW's current timetable envisions the start of construction in 'early 2018', according to the Lower Lee Flood Relief Scheme website.

However, on the basis of this further consultation, it remains to be seen whether this deadline is realistic.

In addition to questions about timetables, the Save Cork City group have posed a number of questions about the current proposals.

The group has submitted its own extensive submission as part of the public consultation process, one of more than 600 received by the OPW since designs went live in December.

The volunteer group comprises of a wide range of architects and engineers, as well as heritage experts, business owners and concerned Corkonians.

In their submission, Save Cork City highlight a number of issues with the OPW proposals, suggesting that the potential traffic ramifications during the course of the work will deter people from coming into the city, causing a net negative for businesses.

Additionally, it cites the EU Flood Directive, which recommends a move away from walls and berms toward the restoration of wetlands and better dam management, and the Irish Rivers 2040 report, which recommends a 'no wall' solution for Cork.

Proposals have also been outlined in terms of restoring and improving the quayside and the city's relationship with the river.

"This includes the repair of all quay walls and walkways of the river channels in the city, with particular attention to national and international guidelines for design in historic areas and principles of conservation of historic built fabric."

This forms part of a 'holistic' solution of restoration, all of which retains and, to an extent, rejuvenates the city's relationship with the river, according to Save Cork City.

"Heritage areas like the Coal Quay and Sullivan's Quay would be altered forever and very much for the worse by the OPW scheme," the submission said.

Instead of high quay walls, Save Cork City is suggesting a focus on slowing and storing water elsewhere.

This includes the method of 'farming the flood' by planting trees, restoring wetlands and reinstating ditches upstream to limit the volume of water flowing downstream.

It also includes 'below the dam' repair of weirds, which the group claim can slow the flow of water significantly.

This is in addition to the proposals for a tidal barrier at Little Island, a move that would better protect the docklands and Tivoli, as well as the city centre, according to the group.

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