Our flood plan is the superior option... so say Save Cork City

A tidal barrier is the best solution to Cork’s flood issues, says JOHN HEGARTY, of Save Cork City, in an open letter to Tánaiste Simon Coveney
Our flood plan is the superior option... so say Save Cork City
Archive pictures of flooding in Cork city.

DEAR Tánaiste,

There is considerable opposition to the Lower Lee Flood Relief Scheme in Cork and the reasons are well founded. The choice for Cork is to carry out the OPW scheme, which aims to protect only a small amount of the city and is predicted to have a large overspend, or to build a tidal barrier which adapts to sea level rises, can be completed faster, and protects much more of the city.

The tidal barrier is the only proposal that can stop the unsafe scenario of rising flood water at higher levels in the river than the ground floors of thousands of properties in the city.

The current LLFRS scheme was presented to Cork by OPW as The Lower Lee Cork City Drainage Scheme and supports kilometres of concrete walls and walls and railings, with gaps for demountable barriers and embankments; all separated from the river with deep underground structures of concrete and sheet piling in a continuous line around over 12.5km of the city. The scheme relies on 46 large pump chambers. It would be naive to believe that the impact of the construction works would not be significant. The scheme is a walls scheme by anyone’s imagination.

At a conservative estimate, the €200m scheme would cost up to €100,000 per property to be protected. The construction cost of the tidal barrier proposal has been priced independently at less than €200m three times, and protects far more of Cork. If you include projected Docklands and Tivoli development, the real spend could be as low as €15,000 per property.

OPW cost estimates for the tidal barrier are unsubstantiated and challenged by international experts as being wildly exaggerated. The development potential of the entire Docklands area, the great opportunity for our city, can be unlocked by the tidal barrier.

The OPW flood walls should not be forced on Cork without an independent review of the options presented. Independent research suggests again and again that the tidal barrier at Little Island is the sustainable long-term solution to protect Cork and that walls are not required in the city centre. The OPW scheme proposes to support flood waters to rise to higher levels than the ground floors of existing buildings. Anyone who has witnessed this dynamic can appreciate how dangerous and frightening a prospect this is for city dwellers.

This fundamental design approach consigns almost all property within the city core as at risk. This is a prospect that is economically and socially deeply unfair to those who live or work in the city. It is an unwanted scenario that would affect the value of all property and investments in the historic centre.

The proposed tidal barrier is located at Little Island where the saline water of the harbour meets the fresh water of the river for least environmental impact. The design creates the most water storage behind the barrier in Lough Mahon, allowing for a passive solution not requiring mechanical pumps. The barrier acts to separate tidal surge water from fluvial water in times when together they would flood the city and additionally acts to prevent tidal surge flooding. The developing design of the tidal barrier is fully considerate of the OPW Supplementary Report on the option of a barrier at Lough Mahon and has been refined and informed with access to significant international expertise. The tidal barrier avoids an extensive walls scheme of embankments and quayside defences with high flood waters that have also led to catastrophic failure, leading to loss of life in notable instances worldwide.

There is justified opposition to the imported aesthetic of the OPW flood walls scheme. Save Cork City promote an approach for historic Cork that references the material quality and close relationship to the water demonstrated by cities like Amsterdam, Bruges or Copenhagen. In these cities, cobbled quaysides that encourage an intimate connection to the river are jealously protected for their benefit socially and economically. There is no doubt that the quays of Cork would be all but lost under the OPW scheme and this would be a crime in almost any EU country.

Our beautiful city we wish to protect is a built record of our maritime trading history with northern Europe. It is a significant asset ready to support a new economy and is our second great opportunity in Cork. Raised water levels above the ground floors of thousands of properties that deny an economy connected to the river can be avoided.

Recent published information on the OPW scheme in the form of images has been highly misleading, creates a culture of mistrust in public service and degrades public process. For every one image of the OPW scheme deemed acceptable to publish showing the scheme from the quayside, there are hundreds more possible of the riverside landscape that equally would cause deep concern to even the most ardent supporter of the flood walls.

We invite you to examine, with us, all the images that show the wall’s structures within the landscape of the river.

There is much division caused by applying the OPW flood scheme to such an important historic city and implemented as a drainage scheme under the Arterial Drainage Act, which denies participation in the democratic process. The arrival of the OPW Drainage Department to Cork has caused significant division in our society. Even those that feel compelled to support the scheme may feel regret for the forcing of the project on deeply concerned citizens and regret the lack of input of the very skilled heritage professionals of the OPW.

The EU Floods Directive strongly promotes the use of economical and sustainable solutions that protect from flooding using existing infrastructure and landscape opportunities and avoiding impact on heritage, centres of population and economic activity. The OPW should have considered a new scheme when costs and technical difficulties presented by flood walls in Cork became apparent.

Save Cork City believe it is highly regrettable that flood defences were included in the design for the area surrounding Albert Quay. As the OPW flood scheme formed part of a previous High Court action, it is difficult to understand how the two functions of public realm and flood defence could be combined again in the same circumstances. The combination is the result of very poor decision-making and we ask for your help to find a resolution.

We are focused on the potential of the economic and social development of the city we love and throughout our campaign have learned to promote alternative solutions and listen more carefully to those not being heard. Many who live and work in the city’s fragile environment or those without power in society have lost voices that aren’t heard within the din of a proposal to spend money whatever the consequences.

Our proposal is a viable, economical scheme for protecting Cork that can be achieved faster. It also creates a significant boost for the economic development of our now larger city; the great benefit of which could be felt for many generations. The landscape of Cork has changed and we hope we may, genuinely and in friendship, be part of the solution for a better future for everyone.

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Add Echolive.ie to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more