CONCERNS have been raised over the future of Blackpool as a debate on flood defences continues.
Earlier this week, Save Our Bride Otters (SOBO) outlined its intention to seek a judicial review on the recent decision by the Minister for Public Expenditure to allow the Office of Public Works (OPW) to proceed with the €20m Blackpool flood defence scheme.
The group said that the proposed scheme is “unnecessarily expensive, that the culverting aspect is likely to be the cause of more flooding long-term, rather than relieving potential flooding, and that the proposed works are too damaging to the habitat of the community of European otters”.
The campaigners believe the Bride is an ideal location for nature-based solutions which would slow the flow of waters upstream.
They said the 350m culvert would be “effectively burying the last open stretch of the river in Blackpool village underground”.
SOBO spokesperson Chris Moody lives adjacent to the River Bride in Blackpool and said that the group fears the impact the scheme would have on wildlife.
“Despite the proposed mitigation measures, the impact on wildlife is going to be very severe and we can’t let that go ahead. We have to try, at least to oppose it,” he said.
Councillor Ken Collins has also outlined concerns about the impact on wildlife and said that he would like to see the area “opened up” and beautified. In addition, he has said that the removal of historical bridges under the scheme is “not good enough”.
The OPW has said that while no protected historic structures are being impacted, a number of historic bridges are being replaced, but mitigation measures have been agreed with the National Monuments Service.
Other mitigation measures include an otter ledge and light wells in the culverted section.
Cork North-Central TD Colm Burke said that extensive environmental impact studies were carried out before the Department signed off on the flood relief scheme in addition to extensive consultation.
Mr Burke said he is “disappointed that people feel that they have to go through the court system in order to raise issues which have been adequately provided for in the whole project.
“If this flood relief scheme does not go ahead for Blackpool, then you can take it that Blackpool Village is going to die a death.
“No one will invest money there where they can’t get insurance.”
Fianna Fáil TD Padraig O’Sullivan noted the group’s right to seek a judicial review if they feel some part of the process was not followed correctly.
“But my concern would be around business owners, around people that are living in the area that have experienced flooding events in the past,” he said.
Jer Buckley owns a building in Blackpool which was affected by the flooding 2013. “In 2013, the flash flood came so fast we had hardly any warning,” he said.
“By the time I got the flood barriers up in front of my shop, I was up to my waist in water and the fire brigade had to pull me out with ropes,” he said.
“Not only are you suffering the trauma of this constant threat of flooding, it makes you feel awful, it makes you hugely anxious, you’re in a state of high anxiety every time it rains and the awful thing is, we’re 11 years waiting for this scheme. It’s a brilliant scheme.”
Mr Buckley had welcomed the scheme, which he said is “a positive story for Blackpool”.
The OPW has said that the development of the scheme has been informed by extensive consultation with key stakeholders, and where possible, it incorporates environmental mitigation measures and compensation measures.
“It is important to recognise that there will always be diverging opinions on any project of this scale.
“However, the alternatives now being mooted have all already been considered,” it said.
“The selection of the confirmed scheme has been the result of a rigorous selection process to ensure that the solution brought forward represents the optimum solution for Blackpool having fairly weighed up the relative merits of all of the various constraints, opinions, and viewpoints.”