Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 14 July 2016
Public Accounts Committee
Special Report No. 92 of the Comptroller and Auditor General: Strategic Planning for Flood Risk Management
The Comptroller and Auditor General has been joined by Ms Mahin Fitzpatrick. I welcome Ms Clare McGrath, chairperson of the Office of Public Works. She is accompanied by Mr. Tony Smyth, director of engineering services, and Mr. Mark Adamson, assistant chief engineer. From the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform we are joined by Mr. Dermot Quigley, principal officer. We are also assisted in our consideration by the permanent witness, the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. If, however, they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of that evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members are reminded of the long-standing ruling of the Chair to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
We are considering special report No. 92 of the Comptroller and Auditor General on strategic planning for flood risk management. I invite the Comptroller and Auditor General to make an opening statement on the matters raised in the report.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
The Office of Public Works, OPW, is the lead body for the co-ordination and implementation of Government policy on the management of flood risk. The report for consideration by the committee relates to an examination by my office of the way in which the OPW plans for and manages the risks associated with river and coastal flooding. Flooding is a long-term and complex problem that presents a very serious challenge in Ireland and many other states, including many of our European neighbours. By now, most people accept that flooding is a problem that will become worse in the future, both in its intensity and likelihood. Sadly, at the time my report was being completed, Storm Desmond was causing widespread flooding, leading to damage and distress in many parts of the country. As public resources are scarce, it is essential that expenditure on flood prevention measures and the response to flooding be well planned and targeted at the areas where it will deliver the maximum social and economic benefit.
In my examination I considered the governance and project management arrangements in place for strategic planning for flood risk management. I also assessed OPW's management of, and progress to date on, the catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, programme and a set of pilot river basin flood management plans. In 2004 an interdepartmental policy review group recommendedthat future flood risk management focus on mapping and strategic planning at river basin level. That model of planning was being applied elsewhere in Europe. The 2007 EU floods directive established a common, whole of river-basin approach to the assessment and management of flood risks across the European Union. The directive set a series of deadlines for all EU member states, requiring them to identify areas at serious risk of flooding; produce flood hazard maps and flood risk maps for these areas; and produce flood risk management plans for whole river basins. The OPW was able to incorporate the work already under way as part of the 2004 review into its work programme to meet the directive's requirements.
Planning for flood management for whole river basins started in 2005 on a pilot basis. The aim was to test the approach in advance of the roll-out of a national programme. The OPW originally envisaged that nine projects would be undertaken at the pilot stage to test approaches in different types of river basin and using different models for delivery. In the event, only four pilot projects proceeded for the River Suir, the River Lee and the River Dodder and in the Fingal and east Meath area. In March 2006 the OPW planned that the pilot testing would be completed in 2007. All four pilot projects reviewed ran significantly over their original schedules, with delays of at least six years in each case. The Suir pilot project was not completed on a stand-alone basis and the OPW has incorporated it into the planning for the south-eastern CFRAM study.
Costs also increased compared with what had been originally planned for the pilot schemes. Indicative cost estimates for the four pilot projects totalled approximately €3.5 million. Expenditure to the end of 2014 on the projects was €8.9 million. In the case of the two pilot projects managed by local authorities, no service-level agreement was put in place between the OPW and the relevant local authorities prior to commencing the projects. The lack of such agreements can potentially lead to difficulties in resolving project issues that may arise and can also increase the exposure of public bodies to costs in excess of those agreed at the outset.
The national CFRAM programme got under way in 2011, focused on six regions, each comprising a number of river basins. The report includes a map, on page 21, indicating the regions.
One of the CFRAM programme's main objectives was to produce the required maps and flood risk management plans within the timeframe set out in the EU floods directive. There was some evidence of learning from the pilot schemes being transferred to the CFRAM programme, but this did not happen in a formalised manner. The first CFRAM programme delivery target required the preparation and submission to the European Commission of preliminary flood risk assessments by March 2012. The OPW met that target, identifying 300 areas as being at high risk. The second delivery target required the preparation of flood risk and flood hazard maps for each of the identified areas by December 2013 and their submission to the European Commission by March 2014. The OPW had submitted maps for only 50 of the 300 identified areas by the due date and had not submitted additional maps by December 2015. We have included a set of maps for the area around Gort, County Galway, as an appendix to the report in order that readers can get a sense of what is involved.
At the time my report was being finalised, OPW did not expect to meet the directive's delivery target of March 2016 for submission to the European Commission of final flood risk management plans. The OPW informed me last November that it aimed to complete the plans for all river basins by the end of 2016.
The Accounting Officer will be able to update the committee on progress in that regard.
The OPW estimated in 2009 that the cost of implementing the CFRAM programme would be €30 million excluding VAT. My report notes that the OPW expects the final cost of producing all the plans to be approximately €27.4 million. The Accounting Officer will be able to update the committee on that.
It is critical to the success of large scale programmes, such as CFRAM, that in addition to project management and oversight arrangements, progress is also actively managed at the programme level. A high-level interdepartmental group to oversee national co-ordination of flood risk management and flooding response met between March 2006 and September 2009 but did not meet again for a period of almost six years up to July 2015. A steering group established to oversee the CFRAM programme similarly met between May 2009 and November 2010 but did not meet again during a four-year period up to November 2014. In the case of the pilot projects, there was a lack of clarity about the oversight arrangements. While OPW established structures to monitor project management, these were evidently not adequate, particularly in light of the delays and cost escalation that occurred.
Capital expenditure on flood risk management for the period 2005 to 2014 was €329 million. This comprised major works at a cost of €242 million, strategic studies - including the pilot projects and CFRAM - at a cost €52 million and minor works that cost €35 million. In September 2015, the Government announced details of a €430 million six-year programme of capital investment on flood defence measures as part of the its overall capital investment plan for the period 2016 to 2021.
It is a concern that 12 years on from the report of the flood policy review group and eight years after the EU floods directive, substantial capital expenditure commitments continued to be made without the full benefit of the comprehensive analysis and strategic plans that will emerge from the CFRAM programme.
Ms Clare McGrath:
I thank the committee for the opportunity to make this opening statement concerning the Comptroller and Auditor General’s special report - Strategic Planning for Flood Risk Management.
First, I will outline for committee members the responsibilities of the Office of Public Works in the area of flood risk management. Following the strategic review of flood risk policy in 2004, the Office of Public Works was assigned the lead co-ordinating role for flood risk management in Ireland. At the core of the OPW's work is the objective of reducing, to the greatest extent possible, the level of flood risk to people, property, infrastructure and the environment. In the context of its role and responsibilities in respect of flood risk management, the OPW delivers services through the following four key areas: strategic planning to manage flood risk in future through the CFRAM programme in compliance with the EU floods directive and a strategic role to co-ordinate, for consideration by Government, cross-sectoral policies that mitigate flood risk now and in the future; a programme of capital investment to address existing flood risk to properties and infrastructure through major and minor flood relief projects, which are delivered in partnership with local authorities; programmed maintenance of 11,500 km of river channels, including 800 km of embankments of arterial drainage and urban flood relief schemes completed by the OPW under the Arterial Drainage Acts 1945 and 1995; and an advisory role to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and the general public to assist them in preparing for and responding to flooding. In carrying out these functions, the OPW works in close co-operation with other State bodies, principally local authorities, which also have key responsibilities in the area of flood risk management.
We welcome the Comptroller and Auditor General’s special report on Strategic Planning and Flood Risk Management. I have ensured that the OPW has in place appropriate structures to give effect to the three recommendations outlined in the report.
The Government’s flood policy involved developing a planned programme of prioritised feasible works, with a greater emphasis on non-structural measures. To deliver this required proactive assessment and planning for areas at potential risk from flooding. Ireland’s national flood risk policy corresponded with subsequent requirements of the EU floods directive.
Any investment to defend areas from flood risk that does not get it right first time can cost incrementally more to fix. Since 1995, the OPW has invested some €460 million in flood risk management measures including, in co-operation with relevant local authorities, the construction of 37 major flood defence schemes throughout the country at a cost of €348 million. In total, these major - and over 500 minor - flood mitigation works protect an estimated 12,000 properties and confer an economic benefit to the State in terms of damage and losses avoided estimated at some €1.2 billion.
No major flood relief scheme has been advanced to date without the benefit of highly detailed analysis, both at a scientific and engineering level, and economically in terms of cost benefit appraisal, with comprehensive stakeholder and public consultations to inform and support all decisions taken. All decisions taken to date in allocating funding to flood relief capital works have had clear and robust evidence to support the need and full justification for proceeding. Completed OPW schemes have performed successfully in protecting towns and communities concerned. They were tested in the events at the end of last year. From the its extensive experience in planning flood defence measures, the OPW builds in flexibility to respond to issues that can naturally arise due, for example, to local topographical issues or ground conditions. Where these arise we automatically evaluate the possible planning impact and, if required, reset our overall planning and delivery timelines. These events, while potentially extending the envisaged planning and delivery timeframe, provide valuable and necessary information to inform the optimum outcome - one that returns the greatest benefit to communities and homeowners from the proposed investment.
CFRAM is a planning vehicle and its outcome will have a positive impact for people and communities in areas at risk from flooding. The national CFRAM programme is without precedent in its scale and complexity. For example, the flood mapping exercise has involved detailed modelling and mapping in each of the 300 areas for further assessment, including surveying and modelling of 6,700 km of watercourse and 9,400 km2 of flood-plain. Given the importance and impact from the CFRAM programme, getting it wrong is not an option.
The task faced by the OPW was to assess Ireland's watercourses and coastlines for the risk of flooding, to map the flood extent and assets at risk in these areas, and to set out a plan of appropriate, co-ordinated and feasible measures to reduce and mitigate this flood risk. The OPW’s implementation plan recognised that there were a variety of opportunities and options that could help to inform delivery of the right solutions. The OPW, through subsequent discussions with local authorities, agreed that three pilots would provide the wealth of information and experience that would lead to the right approach to planning and governance for a national CFRAM programme.
A further CFRAM project, the Suir study, was commenced in-house to build the technical expertise to enable OPW staff to critically assess and work with CFRAM outputs, noting the OPW's responsibility to maintain and review the plans. The completion of the Suir CFRAM project is now, as mentioned by the Comptroller and Auditor General, aligned and co-ordinated with the south-eastern CFRAM project, given the overlap of membership between the steering groups for both projects. Comprehensive governance and management structures were put in place for each pilot. In terms of their planning, the initial plans and indicative estimated budgets formed part of the implementation plan. The Dodder and the Fingal-east Meath pilots were managed by the relevant local authorities.
The pilots to test and inform the best approach to undertake a national CFRAM programme were undertaken in parallel with the delivery and completion of flood defence schemes for these areas. For example: in parallel to publishing the River Dodder draft flood risk management plans in 2012 and finalised in November 2014, tidal and fluvial protection works have continued along the River Dodder since 2007 providing protection to a large number of properties; many elements of the proposed scheme for Cork city and the lower Lee as set out in the Lee flood risk management plan, FRMP, have been progressing through project-level development, with exhibition currently planned in the coming months; and Clonmel's flood defence schemes were completed in 2014, as were Waterford's, while Templemore's are in train.
Finalising the draft FRMPs in the pilot study areas has not been an impediment to the progression of significant flood risk management works in these areas. Moreover, lessons from the pilots have been invaluable to inform how to progress with the national CFRAM programme. The lessons, which I accept were not captured in a formal report at the time, significantly informed the published brief for the national CFRAM. These lessons can be categorised as: technical lessons that informed the approach and specifications for aerial survey requirements, survey work, defining the watercourses to be modelled and including stronger calibration of the hydraulic modelling to the outcomes of the hydrological analysis; programming lessons that informed governance and oversight structures, timescale for milestone delivery, approach to procurement, communication and engagement with the public and key stakeholders and data collection; and appraisal lessons by broadening the appraisal of options beyond purely economic cost-benefit analysis to include the assessment of possible measures against social, environmental, cultural and technical objectives.
It also included an assessment of the potential impacts of climate change.
As Accounting Officer and in terms of overall management, I am satisfied the pilot schemes informed our budgeting and project management for the national CFRAM programme. I acknowledge that Ireland did not report to the European Union in full to meet its flood map requirements by March 2014. As the Comptroller and Auditor General said, we reported and provided maps for 50 of the 300 areas at that stage. However, in referring to this, I point out that in 2014 the OPW could have reported and provided national predictive flood maps to comply with the EU deadline. However, these would have been indicative maps only and the OPW, while technically compliant, did not consider it to be of benefit to the European Union to report based on these maps for the sake of compliance, rather than wait to report and provide the more detailed and reliable maps being developed under the CFRAM programme.
It also has to be recognised that the flood mapping and plans developed by the OPW under the CFRAM programme exceeded the requirements of the EU floods directive. We have also completed an extensive and important public consultation process in which we had more than 350 consultation sessions with public representatives and communities to explain and seek their views on flood risk and the solutions for their areas. We also learned of the need to do this from the pilot projects.
Our maps fully inform feasible solutions to manage future flood risk, are a valuable resource used in planning and development decisions by local authorities and inform planning for emergency responses. Our plans are the outline design for preferred measures which can allow for a reduction of up to two years in completing future structural flood defence measures.
It is acknowledged that the implementation plan had estimated indicative budgets for the pilot schmes in the region of €3.5 million, which turned out to be far less than the sum required. Importantly, given their pilot scheme status, the lessons from these them have informed a more accurate estimate of the budget for the national programme which has been set at €30 million, excluding VAT.
Delays of approximately one year have been encountered in survey work. This was due to poor market response to a procurement process, despite the OPW publishing a prior information notice in the Official Journal of the European Union for the entire survey programme. It may have been due to heightened demand across the European Union at the time arising from the EU floods directive. While the OPW has managed the impact of this delay through proactive project management, there are some budgetary implications that are ongoing and commercially sensitive. I am satisfied, however, that they are not significant in the context of the overall budgetary figure of €30 million.
On final delivery, the EU floods directive requires each member state to publish its flood risk management plans by March 2016. Our plans are on schedule to be finalised for approval by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform by the end of 2016, about nine months beyond the reporting deadline for the six year programme. Managing flood risk has always involved a close working relationship between the OPW and local authorities. This relationship dates back as far as 1945 when the Commissioners of Public Works were assigned statutory responsibility for arterial drainage. In recent years this close and good working relationship has been set out in service level agreements. Prior to this our close working relationship was not formally set out, even though it was understood.
I have set out the governance structures for the pilot schemes in the briefing document I circulated to the committee in advance of today’s meeting. The long-standing constructive relationship between the OPW and the local authorities in flood risk management provided confidence and greater certainty that these structureswould be applied in full, particularly in the light of the awareness of their role in informing the planning of a national programme. The interdepartmental group met on four occasions between March 2006 and September 2009. During this period, many elements of the outline implementation plan that involved other parties in addition to the OPW were undertaken and-or completed. The Government reconvened the interdepartmental working group in July 2015 and it is preparing a report for the Government on other policy initiatives for consideration by it. The report is expected to be completed shortly.
The steering group to set the direction for the development of the national CFRAM programme was established in May 2009 and met, as the Comptroller and Auditor General said, on six occasions up to November 2010. During this period, the group provided an input into the preliminary flood risk assessment; the preparation of the CFRAM programme brief that was used for the appointment of engineering consultations through a procurement process for each of the study areas; and the preparation of the statutory instrument to transpose the EU floods directive. In this regard, the core elements of the national CFRAM programme had been set by the end of 2010. Therefore, the group had largely met its initial objectives in setting the direction of the national CFRAM programme.
The ongoing implementation of the CFRAM programme after the appointment of the consultants involved significant survey work and technical analysis such as hydrological analysis and hydraulic modelling. This work was being co-ordinated and overseen by the steering and progress groups for each of the six CFRAM study areas. These groups are represented by the key stakeholders at project level, including local authorities. During the period from 2011 to November 2014, when the national CFRAM steering group reconvened, there were in the order of 160 meetings of the oversight steering and progress groups established for each project. These groups have been invaluable in driving, steering and co-ordinating the work of the CFRAM programme locally and in providing the information for the OPW which is leading and monitoring the programme. During the intervening period there have also been multiple bilateral meetings with stakeholders and interest groups to inform the process, including the State bodies Waterways Ireland, the ESB and the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government, and other interested bodies.
The steering group was reconvened in 2014 with agreed terms of reference when the outcomes of the technical work were being prepared for public consultation and met again in June 2016 in advance of preparation for the public consultation process. As of tomorrow, 15 July 2016, flood risk management plans for two of the six areas will be put out for public consultation. We are beginning to roll out the public consultation process for the final plans, with a view to final reporting once approved by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform towards the end of the year.
I am happy to address these matters in more detail and other queries the committee may have.
I thank Ms McGrath. Deputy Catherine Connolly is the lead speaker today and will have 20 minutes. The second speaker will be Deputy Peter Burke who will have 15 minutes. Every member called thereafter will have ten minutes.
Before I call Deputy Catherine Connolly, I wish to refer to one aspect of the report by the Comptroller and Auditor General. It is dealt with on page 55 and concerns the cost of the pilot project schemes. I have two brief questions. The report was completed in 2015 and published earlier this year. My first query relates to the costs contracted up to 31 December 2014. Perhaps Ms McGrath might clarify if the OPW has an update on the costs incurred on the pilot projects in the subsequent 18 months. Considering that the information we have available is 18 months old, where are we today?
My second query relates to two items listed in the appendices which give me cause for great concern. The first concerns the figure in paragraph A1 - cost of the River Lee pilot project. The principal contract value was €1.048 million but the outturn up to 18 months ago was €2.199 million. That represents an increase of €1.151 million or 110% above the original contract value. What happened and what went so wrong that the contract went over 100% above the contract price? I do not even know if that is the complete figure.
I also refer the committee to the figure in paragraph A5 - River Shannon CFRAM study, for costs up until 2014. At the bottom of the appendix the OPW states: "The expenditure to date includes payments for additional work totalling just over €692,000 and payment of compensation claims of just over €305,000." Perhaps the OPW might explain why the figure of €692,000 was not built in to the original contract proposal and why there is the big figure of €305,000 for compensation payments? What are the current figures for the cost of the River Lee and River Shannon projects?
Ms Clare McGrath:
The original budget for the pilots was €3.5 million. I completely accept that the figure relating to the estimate for the pilots is much lower. One of the reasons for doing the pilot projects is to determine what might be our costs. It is through the learning on the pilot projects that we determined costs and these then inform the national CFRAM, in respect of which the budget has been set at €30 million. In terms of the national projects, we are largely within that budget. The pilot projects were, in part, about learning about costs, time, technical issues and procurement.
This is a shocking start to the work of this new Committee of Public Accounts. At our first public meeting we learn that the pilot projects were estimated to cost €3.5 million but that the actual cost to the end of June 2016 was €9.1 million. That is 200% over budget. What was so wrong with the original indicative costs? Will Ms McGrath explain how the OPW got it so wrong? The estimate for these pilot projects was €3.5 million but the costs were €9.1 million;. Obviously, the almost €6 million difference has had to be cut from other worthy projects. Will Ms McGrath talk about the big picture before I call Deputy Connolly?
Ms Clare McGrath:
In 2004 and 2005 we changed from doing individual capital projects nationally to considering projects on flood risk catchment basis. We made a decision to move from being reactive and engineering hard solutions to asking how could we manage flood risk into the future, not just from solutions but from non-structural measures as well. The question then is how do we do this from looking at international practice. To determine how we would deal with flooding nationally, we would look to develop the process around doing pilot projects. We did not have complete knowledge as to what the process should be and we carried out the pilots to determine what might be involved. As part of the process, we were doing exercises on how we would determine costings. In respect of the pilots, one of the significant elements of the costings related to surveys. We had to carry out extensive surveys. We learned from that and it informed the pilots. I can talk on the impact of that learning on the national programme.
In regard to the figures, we were looking at them in the context of how one might estimate the cost of planning. That is not about going in and doing the job, it is about doing surveys and modelling. We were ultimately going to do it for 6,700 km of channel. Our figures were based on the best information we had at that time, but our learning from the pilots informed our decision such that we had to change our timelines and estimates. The purpose of the pilots was to inform our decision to change.
Does Ms McGrath accept that we must interrogate the fact that the original figure was €3.5 million but that the exercise ended up costing €9.1 million? The committee thought that public bodies were beginning to get the estimates of costs more under control. I am shocked at the extent of the overrun on the original estimate. We have not heard of a figure being 200% over an original estimate in quite a while. During the recession, prices were keener and tighter. Ms McGrath's point does not fully stack up. In response to my first remark in respect of the physical contract relating to the River Lee project, Ms McGrath said the difficulty was with the mapping. The principal contractor on that project was more than 100% over the contract price at the end of 2014. I would like to know whether he has exceeded that cost in the meantime. There has been a woeful under-estimation of expenditure in respect of both the physical work carried out by principal contractors, where we have a figure and also in respect of-----
Ms Clare McGrath:
I am concerned Chairman. The pilots were about asking ourselves how we would do the national CFRAM and how would we learn from our experience. It was not about how we would we deliver a scheme for an individual project. We were working on the plan that would be needed to deliver for the country as a whole. We need to learn from our pilot projects. We were not clear as to what the process might be. We were doing the pilots in a number of different ways to discover the ideal process. The Chairman asked about extrapolating from the estimates we did on the pilot projects in order to obtain a picture in respect of the national programme of projects and my response is that we are within the figure of €30 million plus VAT for the 300 projects. We have learned from the pilot projects and we can then say that we will proceed on the basis that the overall cost will be a certain figure.
I will now address the specific questions relating to the River Lee project. The draft plan for the River Lee was delivered in 2009 and was capable of being published in 2010. As we all know, there was a flood event in 2009 on the River Lee. This made us pause our pilot project instead of proceeding as planned. We had to take on board the information relating to that event and learn from it. We had been looking at flooding from the tidal perspective. This was fluvial flooding and there were complications in the hydraulic modelling of that event. It was complicated. The consultants were involved in coming up with modelling, because we had to take account of the impact of the dam. There was a great deal more work in the hydraulic modelling that arose after the delivery of the draft plan. We were piloting a project that would be part of the way we would deliver on national projects. I accept that we could have documented some of the work we were doing on this project in order to be able to report that documentation which had given rise to making us pause. From the perspective of where we have got to in respect of the national projects, and where we are today in terms of the long-term management of flood risk in this country, what we did was right.
Is it possible to indicate the projects that did not proceed as a result of having to find an additional sum of almost €6 million to cover the under-estimated cost of the pilot project? Perhaps Ms McGrath might send a note to the committee on that.
Ms Clare McGrath:
I speak as Accounting Officer for the entirety of the Vote of the Office of Public Works. There is nothing from when we instigated the flood risk management programme that would not have been prioritised. If it was to happen, it would be in other areas not in respect of the management of flood risk nationally.
I realise this work was being done against a background that was unprecedented. In the seven years from December 2006 to December 2015, there were nine major weather events that affected more than ten counties in the western, midlands and Shannon regions. The Comptroller and Auditor General referred already to Storm Desmond in this regard. Another of these events involved an exceptional series of storms. The Red Cross listed another of the weather events in question, by which Cork was affected, in its world disasters report. This is the background in respect of people whose livelihoods, businesses and houses have been affected.
While I have the greatest of respect for the work of the Office of Public Works, I wish to put a number of questions on overruns, time overruns, lack of accountability and boards not sitting. Arising from Government policy, the OPW decided to conduct a number of pilot projects, of which there were nine to begin with. Will Ms McGrath tell me why only four of these projects went ahead in the first instance? What were the criteria used in respect of these projects and why did all nine not proceed?
Ms Clare McGrath:
Nine projects were identified for consideration as pilot projects. Proposed pilot projects relating to Tullamore, the Wad river and Portarlington went in a different direction.
The Tullamore scheme and the scheme on the River Wad have been completed. Given that schemes such as those in Clonmel, Fermoy, Mallow and Ennis were completed in the same period, it is not the case that nothing was happening in the management-----
Ms Clare McGrath:
When we started out, we looked at this issue in terms of resourcing and our management of it. We also looked at our ability to manage such a number of pilot projects. When we began to make progress on the pilot projects, we decided that their better management would be facilitated by moving forward on four projects. Additionally, we identified local authorities that would be in a position to manage these projects externally to complement our external and internal management of them. We were satisfied that they would bring forward the benefits of learning from the pilot projects. From the beginning, the River Lee project was the one from which twe saw the most coming. It was clear from the ranking of pilot projects that it would provide us with the full gamut and range of lessons. The others provided lessons from different perspectives.
I would like to return to what the Chairman said about what had been learned from the projects. The Comptroller and Auditor General has highlighted - perhaps not in red - for our attention that there was some learning from them. He accepts that the OPW made this point. However, there was no formal learning from them. We cannot see a document that shows what was learned when the OPW looked at the four projects. Were they compared and contrasted? It is welcome that the OPW decided to undertake some of the projects in-house, but it also decided to contract some of them out. Did it compare and contrast the various projects?
One of the recommendations made by the Comptroller and Auditor General on foot of his findings was that this learning should be formalised. He also asked the OPW to account for the reason this had not been done in the first place. That is the first thing on which I would like Ms McGrath to comment. My second question relates to the manner in which the two projects were compared and contrasted. Did the OPW learn that it was better to outsource these projects or to keep them in-house? I would also like to come back to the overrun mentioned by the Chairman. It is clear from the figures given that it was a very serious overrun. If Ms McGrath addresses these issues, I will not interrupt her.
Ms Clare McGrath:
There was considerable learning from the surveys conducted. This learning happened between the various teams involved. There were multiple reviews and I accept that many of them related to the manner in which we were specifying for the national CFRAM programme. One of the technical areas of learning from the pilot projects was the need to include and specify bespoke aerial survey requirements to ensure products would be suitable for all intended uses under the CFRAM programme. It was also learned that there was a need to specify the survey work to be done to ensure bespoke outputs that could be adapted for inclusion in the hydraulic models and to define the watercourses to be modelled within the areas to be assessed to ensure the inclusion of relevant smaller channels that could cause flooding, as well as main areas. That came from the pilot projects.
We also engaged in development testing of a new multi-criteria analysis framework to broaden the appraisal of options beyond purely an economic cost-benefit analysis. When we are looking at potential solutions, we can avail of this system of multi-criteria analysis within each area for further assessment to determine the best solution. That also came from the pilot projects. We determined our definition of future scenarios to provide for the assessment of the potential impacts of climate change and other possible future scenarios on the basis of the pilot projects. It was not an EU requirement. We also provided for the inclusion of assessments of geomorphology.
If the Deputy wants more details of any of these matters, my colleagues can give her more detailed descriptions. There was stronger calibration of the hydraulic modelling to the outcomes of the hydrological analysis. That came from the pilot projects, particularly the River Lee project. The EPA reviewed our strategic environment assessment report from the pilot projects and worked with us to ensure a transfer to the national CFRAM consulting group. That is what we were doing in that space on foot of the pilot projects. I acknowledge that procedures were developed within the organisation. We took the lessons on board and developed our procedures for our own project management. This was done in-house. We then sought ISO accreditation in 2008. We developed our own internal procedures.
I have mentioned some of the lessons we learned on the technical side. We learned in the time we were involved in the pilot projects that the work involved was more substantial and was going to be more substantial than had initially been estimated and that for that reason longer project periods were required. This lesson is reflected in the programmes set for the national CFRAM programme. We learned from the pilot CFRAM programmes that the work involved was more substantial than had initially been estimated, that our initial budgetary estimates were too low and that our programme budgets needed to be reviewed. A figure of €30 million was set in the review and that has remained the budget.
We refined the project brief. A large number of technical issues which arose in the pilot projects needed to be clarified. By engaging with the external consultants involved in the pilot projects, we found out things that were happening in these projects and translated them into the briefs and specifications for the subsequent national CFRAM programme. We refined the procurement process to provide for a greater level of detail in the tender brief to permit more efficient tender preparation and review and more accurate pricing of the work involved. We refined things like payment schedules where we had been operating purely on a milestone basis. We needed to engage in blending to make sure there was greater competition when arranging the competition nationally.
Ms McGrath is outlining what was learned. It would have been better if it had been outlined in a formal manner. It is a question of confidence. The Comptroller and Auditor General has highlighted the question of oversight in the context of the governance procedure set in place. The top interdepartmental co-ordination group, a high-ranking group, did not meet at all between 2009 and 2015. The steering group did not meet between 2010 and 2014. I do not know where the blame lies for the failure of the high departmental group to meet. Certainly, its failure to meet would not instil confidence in me as a Deputy. There was no reporting mechanism to that high departmental group. Does Ms McGrath accept the Comptroller and Auditor General's finding that there should have been more formalised learning?
From the point of view of the public, that is a serious delay. It would be better if we could see a trail in support of the OPW's argument. I do not doubt that difficulties arose, but it would have been much better for public confidence if the OPW had gone back and the governance procedures in place had functioned. Why did the top departmental group not meet between 2009 and 2015, especially in the light of what people throughout the country have had to endure during every single season? There was no pattern to the storms. They happened in June and July, just as they happened in January and February. Why did the governance groups not meet? What has the OPW learned from their failure to meet? Whose fault was it that they did not meet?
Ms Clare McGrath:
As I said, the capital programmes continued in this period. It is not as if they were in abeyance. I am putting my hands up and admitting that this group should have stated in 2009 that it was going into recess while it awaited a detailed CFRAM analysis, the hydraulic modelling and the results of surveying. It should have stated it would come back after all the things that needed to happen and for which the OPW was responsible had been done. In 2006 the group was asked to do certain things with regard to planning guidelines, policy on flood warning and the review of hydrometric analysis. These things had been done by that time. The group should have stated the key next stage was delivery. I appreciate that the other group was the national steering group. There were advisory steering groups and progress groups for each of the six CFRAM study areas, the 29 draft flood risk management plans and the 300 areas to be subject to further assessment.
There were 160 of those meetings in the period when the other groups were in abeyance. At a meeting, that group should have declared that, as its key outputs had been achieved, the OPW was responsible for the delivery of the survey. I accept that.
I am not sure whether I accept what Ms McGrath has said about going into abeyance. The steering group - the top interdepartmental group - should have met. Some of the groups had no terms of reference. Those were only introduced when the Government suddenly decided to reconvene the groups in 2015. Notwithstanding the good work being done on the ground, there was an absence of terms of reference and governance. This affects public confidence. The groups should have functioned but did not.
Is it correct that there was no service level agreement with the local authorities? Work and money was handed over to two local authorities without that agreement.
Ms Clare McGrath:
I take the recommendation of the Comptroller and Auditor General on that. We have service level agreements with some local authorities, for example, Carlow and Waterford. I agree with the recommendation of putting in place service level agreements with local authorities in respect of-----
I appreciate where Ms McGrath is coming from, but there were no service level agreements. Such an agreement is basic. It sets out what has to be done and, in case issues arise, how they should be addressed. Significantly, it helps to avoid costs. In this case, did the costs in the pilot projects not nearly treble?
It is accepted that this was wrong and that there should have been an agreement. The Comptroller and Auditor General made conclusions and specific recommendations. My understanding is that the OPW has accepted all of the recommendations. One caused a problem for the OPW. It related to a project's detailed budget expenditure. The OPW did not accept the recommendation initially.
Ms Clare McGrath:
There was learning in respect of budgeting for and estimating what was involved in delivering the pilots. In terms of conducting and undertaking evidence-based development of capital projects, we conduct rigorous cost-benefit analyses that are not dependent on the CFRAM. I take the Comptroller and Auditor General's point about changes in programming. The milestones should also be changed and reported on.
Of the four pilot projects, two of which involved local authorities and two of which were done in-house with contracting help, which was most cost effective and efficient? Was there any learning in that regard? The OPW went both ways to learn.
Mr. Tony Smyth:
We tried to deliver some of them through local authorities in the hope that we could leverage their resources, but we found that many detailed technical questions were coming back to our staff anyway. We were brought in to work more closely with council staff. They were managing the overall contract, but because many technical questions were coming back to us, we did not have the benefit of the arm's length management that we had hoped would arise through handing the projects over to local authorities. When we came to the national programme, this is why we decided to contract the service providers directly rather than through local authorities.
Where are we with the national plan? The OPW met its first deadline with the preliminary risk assessment but missed the second deadline for the production of hazard and flood risk maps. Why was that?
I understand that, and consultation is vital. I would be the first to give out if the OPW did not have a consultation process. Is Ms McGrath telling the committee that the process will be finished by the end of this year?
Ms Clare McGrath:
We have conducted 350 public consultations on the plans. We hope that, through these, we will have bottomed out most people's concerns. We cannot say "entirely". More than the EU floods directive requires us to, we have been consulting at all stages so as to ensure that we are achieving the optimum solutions for those who must live with flood risks. We hope that the 350 public consultation days, as part of a continuing process, will be a help to the legislative public consultation phase into which we are now entering.
My time is up, but my final question relates to the EU. The OPW reported to the Commission at various stages. What was the Commission's response? What is our exposure to penalties for non-compliance with the directive? I am hot under the collar about public consultation. In Galway, it was conducted in various hotels. Why was that not done in public buildings, for example, the town hall or city council? It would have been cheaper and shown that the process belonged to everyone. I attended one of the consultations, but very few people were there.
Ms Clare McGrath:
They have acknowledged our updates in keeping them informed. We do not expect that there will be an issue in that regard. We have sought to have the consultations in public buildings, where possible. However, because they have not always been available to us and, because the consultation has always been our priority, we have had to make use of other facilities.
Ms Clare McGrath:
Every local authority that is involved - there are 17 involved in relation to the Shannon - would be involved in every progress group. Through them, we would look to where in a community area would be the optimum location to have the consultation. To a large extent, we would seek to make use of public buildings. If the Deputy has a question in regard to a specific consultation I could find out for her where it was held.
In regard to the interdepartmental co-ordination group and the national CFRAMS steering group, Ms McGrath said that potentially they should have been suspended over the period that they did not meet. Why was a clear terms of reference not set out for each group when established rather than at a later stage in the case of both, for example, in regard to the last two meetings in the case of the interdepartmental group and in regard to one meeting of the CFRAM group?
Ms Clare McGrath:
There was no terms of reference as such. The national implementation plan sets out the role of the two groups. For example, the role of the interdepartmental group was to co-ordinate the high level policy for the implementation of all aspects of the programmes and policy works, to review the programme, to provide feedback and to progress relevant activities within Departments and principal stakeholder obligations. In the case of the national CFRAM steering group, its role was to co-ordinate at an operational level the implementation of specific programmes and to report on those and provide feedback. There was a role specified but not at a terms of reference level, which came later. People were operating to those roles. Within that, as I said, there were specific thematic areas in regard to the interdepartmental group around developing policy on flood warning and developing policy in conjunction with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government on planning guidelines, all of which happened.
I am concerned that when the weather changes, when it comes to flooding and national catastrophic events the focus within Government and the OPW in terms of planning and seeking solutions appears to die down. In regard to the CFRAM steering group, which is a huge project that the State is undertaking, who is responsible for convening meetings of that group? Who is the person who decides when it should meet and so on? It is hard to understand why that group did not meet more often considering that this is a huge project that needs to be monitored at every step of the way to ensure that it is operating as prescribed.
Why is there not an elected representative on the CFRAM group? Is there any reason behind that?
Ms Clare McGrath:
I will ask my colleague, Mr. Smith, who chairs the group, to respond to the Deputy's final question. From an OPW point of view and from my view as Accounting Officer, the OPW as an organisation is very exercised to deliver on flood risk management for the State. Sunshine and dry spells for years aside, the OPW is about flood risk management for the State. In saying that, we are also about getting it right and in a timely manner. That is why we have separately continued with the delivery of flood risk management schemes for the entire country. This will provide us with overall strategic planning in a sustainable economic way nationally. Irrespective of weather conditions, our focus is on delivery of this programme nationally for the too many people who live with flood risk. We are focused on ensuring into the future this is being dealt with. The OPW has been assigned the lead role in this regard and we are up to deliver on that assignment. This work is being done in conjunction with local authorities and others who have a role in this space. There are many people who have roles, obligations and responsibilities in this space and we want to work with all of them in that regard.
In regard to the Deputy's question on meetings, I will ask my colleague Mr. Tony Smith, to respond.
Mr. Tony Smyth:
It is my responsibility to convene meetings. I have chaired a couple of the group's meetings. The reason I suspended the group was because we had reached a point where it was important for the work of the committee that we would carry out the technical assessments, hydrology and other work that would inform other parts of its work at a later stage. The group was reconvened in the middle of last year as we head reached the point that we could inform a more whole-of-government approach. Other issues arose in the interim that were taken on board at the point of reconvening of the committee and definition of its terms of reference. That was informed by the work and experience of the technical delivery of the CFRAM.
Ms Clare McGrath:
I am sorry, I do not think I understand the Deputy's question. We learned from the pilots that we had not costed correctly. The budget for the delivery of the CFRAM plan is €30 million plus VAT. That is the project budget within which I am saying we will deliver the entire CFRAM programme. There has not been a reduction. The Government announcement last December is in regard to the implementation of those plans, the cost of which is estimated to be €430 million to 2021.
We had a detailed discussion earlier on mapping procedures. Is Ms McGrath confident that we are making the best use of modern technology, such as drones, in mapping and assessing areas? The methodology in terms of these processes appears to be very slow. In regard to the pilot projects, were new technologies trialled that might lead to more efficient processes? Perhaps Ms McGrath would detail what new technology was utilised in the context of the pilot projects and what technology is being used in regard to the CFRAM, the processes of which appear to be slow.
Mr. Tony Smyth:
In terms of drone technology, I do not think it was widely available - it may have been in its infancy - at the time when we surveying for the programme. We used drones to survey flood extents in the last winter floods, which helped in terms of data collection. We have moved to GPS surveying. We are informed on these aspects by the service providers that we engage to undertake the surveys, who seek to be at the cutting edge of what is available and reliable in terms of the gathering of accurate survey information.
Mr. Mark Adamson:
There is an EU working group on floods which has been meeting now for many years. We participate in that group, which we chaired for a short time. In those meetings there would be comparisons between the member states in terms of the technologies and approaches used. I would be confident that we are using state-of-the-art technology which is comparable to other member states.
With regard to the River Shannon and in the context of the CFRAM programme, clearly there is a huge impetus to protect the large population areas. There are many areas outside of that region that are rural.
What work have we done on that? Will Ms McGrath confirm an aspect of this work? There have been relative reports doing the rounds of an exemption from the CFRAM programme for the rural area of Athlone to allow work to be carried out independently. Will Ms McGrath clearly confirm whether that is correct or incorrect?
There is sometimes a trade-off in terms of the population areas. Has the Department looked at relocation policies for areas which, unfortunately, cannot be defended? I am seeking a clear indication on both of those questions.
Ms Clare McGrath:
Deputy Burke is correct. It is the case that we have to manage for flood risk. We cannot necessarily defend against all flood risk. We have to manage it. The programme is identifying those at the greatest level of risk, in other words, people in communities. This has been the main focus of the CFRAM programme. It is around coastal and fluvial risk. It is recognised that there are problems in areas outside of that, particularly smaller numbers of houses or smaller communities. Since 2009, in recognition that the policy was moving in this direction, we have introduced the minor works programme. Under this programme, local authorities can come forward having identified feasible schemes and there is funding up to a cap of €500,000. They may need support and consultancy in determining the nature of such schemes. They can come forward and we will fund them. This programme recognises that there will be other scenarios. It is the case that benefit will accrue if there is a risk to a home, and such schemes are available. The Comptroller and Auditor General referred to the €35 million expended in this area since 2009 on 534 schemes. Some 5,000 properties might be affected. I am not suggesting some of these do not overlap with the CFRAM programme but we recognised the need while CFRAM was being developed. It is not that there is nothing in other areas, but the focus of the CFRAM programme is on communities where we are getting the greatest benefit and where there is potentially the greatest impact of flooding.
I will come back to the committee on what Deputy Burke said about the area outside Athlone - I cannot confirm it. However, in the case of Athlone the OPW has recognised the situation. Along with Westmeath County Council, which is leading on the project, we are bringing forward a scheme for Athlone. I can provide the committee with a list of the schemes. The relevant areas include Claregalway and Dunkellin. There are schemes on-site and coming on site in numerous areas throughout the country. The work is continuing and the minor works are continuing as well.
What is the policy within the Department on service level agreements for work carried out throughout the local authority sector? Why is more of an emphasis not placed on having service level agreements? That would allow us to measure standards, see what timelines are being met and evaluate the performance of the contracts and the works carried out. There seems to be a major concern in terms of how the OPW measures various projects. The Estimates suggest a reduction of local authority projects undertaken in conjunction with the OPW. There has been less of a reliance on the OPW in recent years. It seems the OPW is starting to build this up again now. Ms McGrath has suggested the OPW will be offering a number of avenues for local authorities to apply.
I have a concern over the expertise local authorities have. We have come through an embargo for a long time in the public sector. It is a major task for local authorities to become up to date and to try to carry out these projects. I have a major concern about service level agreements.
Ms Clare McGrath:
The minor works scheme is demand led. It is for local authorities to bring forward proposals. I hope there is a sense of how it works given how the CFRAM matters are being dealt with and delivered. This applies in other parts of the house as well, but the OPW does not simply undertake these capital schemes. We have to live with them afterwards. That is why we are maintaining 11,500 km of river channel although we have not done arterial drainage since the 1980s. We still have a responsibility for maintaining them. For example, the Fermoy, Clonmel, and Kilkenny schemes have to be maintained. We have considerable interest in what happens to these schemes in future, in their maintenance and in keeping them at the design level throughout, including the one in 100 year event flood protection.
We are engaged in this at the moment. One example relates to Cork County Council. We have developed a number of schemes with the council. We are working through getting the optimum service level agreement which will then be used for all other local authority areas. It is not only a question of looking to a local authority and delegating the work to them the work to be delivered under their powers. It is also a question of the consequences for all of us in the long term. There is quite a level within the several level agreements. I do not disagree with the need to put them in place, but we want to know that we are getting them right. Equally, in fairness to local authorities, there are demands on their side and they want to get them right too. We are working through with them on the service level agreements.
Will Ms McGrath outline what work has been done with insurance industry? There is major concern among people trying to get insurance on foot of being in designated areas prone to flooding. One amazing thing about the interdepartmental groups is that they have not met for a long time, in some cases four years and six years. There are major issues that could be worked on and which should be given attention, and insurance is one of these. Will Ms McGrath provide a brief outline on the work the OPW has carried out in this regard? What responsibility does the OPW have, in conjunction with the other Departments, to liaise with the industry to try to ensure people get adequate insurance?
Ms Clare McGrath:
I am subject to being corrected, but in 2012 we put in place a memorandum of understanding between the Office of Public Works and a representative group of the insurance industry. This related to schemes we have completed to standard and providing the information which insurance firms then use to determine insurance. The Office of Public Works has no role in determining who gets insured or how people are insured or in the policy. The policy at sectoral level comes from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. However, along with Insurance Ireland we put in place the memorandum because we have a common interest in having appropriate and relevant information on flood defence schemes to enable the availability to the public of insurance against the risk of flooding. The memorandum of understanding was signed in March 2014. The primary structure to implement this is through a working group, which meets to determine the areas for which flood defence schemes information will be provided as well as the format in which data will be supplied, delivery dates and the frequency of supplying the data. We have done this for 12 completed schemes, including the River Suir, Clonmel: the River Dodder - tidal, Dublin; the River Tolka, Dublin; the River Tolka, Fingal; the River Tolka, Meath; the River Nanny, Duleek; the River Bandon, Dunmanway; the River Fergus - upper, Ennis; the River Blackwater, Fermoy; the River Nore, Kilkenny city; the River Mornington, Mornington; and the River Tullamore, Tullamore. The data have been given. In January 2015, information on the next tranche of schemes was given in respect of the Munster Blackwater, Mallow south and west; Hazelhatch, Celbridge; Derrymullen, Ballinasloe; and Carlow. As we complete the schemes, we will continue to give the information. At that stage, as far as we are concerned, we have supplied the information and we expect that the insurance industry will treat with that.
One issue that has come up relates to demountable defences. In the cases of Fermoy and Mallow, we have put in place demountable defences which depend on intervention by the local authority when it has been given a warning in sufficient time to put up those defences. The insurance industry has questions on that. From the point of view of this office, we have clearly articulated that such defences provide the international level of protection. We have conversations with the insurance industry in that area.
The interdepartmental group has been reconvened and will report to Government shortly. In this area, the Department of Finance takes the lead on policy. The Department is developing a position on whether there is or should be recommendations on insurance and flood risk. That Department, as the sectoral lead, is developing policies around that.
As the deliverer of the schemes with regard to one in 100 year events, the Office of Public Works is satisfied they provide protection and sufficient information to enable insurance. However, the insurance industry states that who is insured and at what level is for its members to determine and not for us.
With regard to the interdepartmental co-ordination group and the steering group, does Ms McGrath accept there was a lack of clarity and urgency and a level of inaction regarding the work of both of these groups?
Ms Clare McGrath:
The implementation plan in 2005 was on preparing for the programme of work to be put in place to develop the CFRAM studies, and then have regard to what other non-structural interdepartmental considerations needed to be considered. The big issue was planning and not exacerbating the problem. This was about engaging with the then Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on putting in place planning guidelines on flood risk, and it was completed in 2009.
Earlier Ms McGrath stated there was a balance between getting it right and getting it timely. What is her view of the remit of both of these groups? Was there a lack of clarity?
Paragraph 5.10 on page 48 of the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:
Oversight bodies were established to monitor the implementation of each pilot project and national CFRAM study. However, in the case of the pilot projects, there is a lack of clarity over precise roles and responsibilities. OPW was unable to provide terms of reference for the steering and progress groups.
However, Ms McGrath stated there was no problem or lack of clarity.
Ms Clare McGrath:
We have very clear terms of reference for steering groups and progress groups for the national CFRAM study. There might have been an issue with the pilot projects, but with regard to the national programme there are very clear terms of reference for steering groups and progress groups.
Certainly, questions are raised in the context of the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General about the remit and terms of reference for the interdepartmental group and the national steering group. Ms McGrath stated there were no problems, but the report states there were.
I understand that, but that is another layer of oversight. With regard to the two groups, there seems to be a conflict between what the Comptroller and Auditor General states in the report and what Ms McGrath is saying. The Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General does not believe it received sufficient responses from the OPW on this issue.
Ms Clare McGrath:
The roles were set out. It was not when they came to meet. There was a recess in 2009. I am stating that at that point the group should have recorded, because it was now moving into a different phase, that it would be in recess until it came back together when it had the details from the CFRAM study. I do accept that.
Why would the group make a decision to go into abeyance and suspend its work? There would have to be logic for this and it would have to go back to its terms of reference. I do not see on what basis this decision was made. It then decided it would reconvene after the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General. It seems a bit of a coincidence that a decision was made after the report.
Mr. Tony Smyth:
The role of the group was to help inform the development of the programme. We must remember that at this stage we had a policy which stated we would minimise flood risk to property throughout the country. We had to turn this into a process by which it could be delivered, writing technical specifications and a process to deliver it, informing ourselves from a flood risk management point of view and a wider government point of view of other things that might be useful to include. The role of the interdepartmental co-ordination group was to inform the process. Once we got that piece done, the next piece was to get involved in the technical delivery of what we now call CFRAM, but which was not in existence at that point. It came from and was informed by this committee.
CFRAM was then developed into a process which was tendered to the private sector for delivery. At a certain point, the interdepartmental committee had no further work to do until the outputs came from CFRAM mapping. We reconvened the groups at what I believe was an appropriate time. It was not formally suspended or agreed with the group that it would not meet until it received certain information back on CFRAM. I put my hands up on this. It is correct the formality was not there. Neither are there terms of reference, and the Comptroller and Auditor General is correct, but the role of the group is stated. We did not sit as a group and state we would adopt terms of reference. I accept we did not set formal terms of reference, but the role was there and we got on with doing the job as best we could.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
When we started to look at this, our initial interest was the fact the pilot projects were running on. We could see, looking back, that they were supposed to be finished much earlier. We decided we would look at the area. Obviously this brought us into looking at the CFRAM study because it was overlapping the pilot projects.
One of initial difficulties was trying to identify who we needed to talk to, and in discussions with the OPW we identified there were many steering groups and progress groups. We try to capture this in a diagram on page 23 of the report. The first question we asked was for the terms of reference so we could understand the role of each group. There were no formal terms of reference for the interdepartmental co-ordination group or for the national CFRAM steering group.
I do not recall, and perhaps I missed it, that was ever an understanding that some of these groups would be established and would suspend at particular periods. Our understanding was the interdepartmental co-ordination group would be co-terminous with the programme. The role was outlined in the presentation. As I read the role, it was to review the programme and the direction, progress and outputs of the implementation process. I have difficulty in understanding how a committee which is supposed to monitor and report on progress could be suspended. This is my reaction.
At different times different committees were established. We fully accept that each progress and steering group for the individual CFRAM studies had clear terms of reference. There is no difficulty there. The same was not true of the progress and project groups for the individual pilots.
I am satisfied, from my perspective, that there was a lack of clarity on the terms of reference. I want to move on to the pilot projects as I have a number of questions on them. We know there were cost overruns and overspend. A valid point was made by the Chairman at the start of the meeting, that the information we have on each of the pilots is up to 2014.
It would be useful if we could get a breakdown of each of the individual projects, the initial estimated cost and the outturn up to now because that, first of all, is important.
Returning to the Comptroller and Auditor General's report on this issue, on page 51, recommendation 5.3 states, "A detailed project budget, including provision for any VAT payable, should be developed and approved at the appropriate level before significant funds are committed to any project." The report states the response of the Accounting Officer of the OPW is, "I do not agree that the recommended procedures were not in place in the OPW.", which is a clear contradiction of what the Comptroller and Auditor General states in the report. How can Ms McGrath reconcile that with the fact that there was almost a 200% overrun in these pilots? She cannot simply put it down to delays. Ms McGrath stated she was extrapolating the national from the projects initially.
Ms McGrath talked about lessons learned. I do not see a lesson being learned here. I do not see even an acceptance that there was a problem in relation to setting out detailed project budgets which would include VAT provision and all of the appropriate provisions that one would make for costings in regard to projects. It has been flagged here that there was a potential failing and we know there was an overrun but then the OPW is saying that there were not real problems here. I do not understand that.
Ms Clare McGrath:
I should say the estimate of €3.5 million was not correct. As for treating it as an overrun, I interpret an overrun as asking you to do something but it does not cost what I said it should - it costs more but you do the same thing I asked you. The contract price on the pilots was €6.8 million. Allowed for, not in the €6.8 million but in those contract, is that there may be things that will arise that we need to put rates on but we are not saying they are in the contract unless they give rise. They did happen.
Page 45 of the Comptroller and Auditor General's report, paragraphs 4.22 and 4.25, states:
OPW has also made payments totalling €1.24 million to principal contractors on two of the pilot projects in compensation for project delays and some additional works that had not been agreed in advance
- €636,000 – river Lee pilot
- €603,000 – Fingal/East Meath pilot.
These are precisely some of the concerns that were flagged. That, to me, is an overrun. Would that be an overrun to Ms McGrath?
The report goes on to state, "In terms of the national programme, OPW has made compensation payments to contractors, totalling €305,000 to the end of December 2014". We do not know what happened beyond December 2014.
It is clear to me that there were overruns in relation to project delays, compensation payments were made and yet there is no acceptance of that at all. The report merely records the Accounting Officer stating, "I do not agree that the recommended procedures were not in place in the OPW." How does Ms McGrath reconcile that?
Ms Clare McGrath:
I accept the need for what the Comptroller and Auditor General has said in the recommendation. I accept what the experience of the pilots showed us is that we had not got the budgeting correct. I accept that but I do not accept that we did not do budgeting. I accept that because of what was needed as a consequence of this-----
Ms McGrath accepts then that there was failure. When the report states the Accounting Officer's response was, "I do not agree that the recommended procedures were not in place", is Ms McGrath accepting that was an incorrect statement to make in response to the Comptroller and Auditor General's report? It is on page 51, recommendation 5.3.
That is not the point being raised. Of course, there was budgets. The point is that there was money paid out in compensation. My reading of the Comptroller and Auditor General's recommendation is that there were not sufficient projections made in relation to budget provision. It did not make proper provisions for VAT. The Comptroller and Auditor General might comment. I believe there is a contradiction by the OPW.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
We included in Appendix C the cost information at the time that the pilots were planned. Basically, it states that the pilots will cost an average of approximately €1 million for studies undertaken by contracted services and €500,000 for studies undertaken in-house, so it is a single figure. The point I am making around a detailed budget is this. How is one going to spend €500,000 or how is one going to spend €1 million? What are the things that make up the €1 million? By taking apart a figure like that and saying, "We will spend so much on this aspect of it and so much on the other aspect", one can look at one's experience and say, "Well, that looks reasonable and those are the kind of rates that we would be expecting to pay." If you like, one identifies where one expects to spend that money.
This is as much as was available for the initial kick-off. The pilots got going on the basis that they would cost €1 million or they will cost €500,000, depending on the way we structure it. The point I was making in the recommendation was one should not be getting into projects with a budget as lacking in detail as that. It needs something more.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
For many years, we have had a different world view in relation to project budgeting with the OPW. It is something that has been fought out here at committees before. It actually relates to the way in which resources are provided for public bodies. We would consider that if one starts a project that has, let us say, a two or three year profile, one needs to know what one will spend over the three years. OPW does its budgeting annually on the basis of the Estimates that are available and, therefore, each year a decision is made - this is how much money we have, this is where we will spend it. We are talking about two different things. One is a kind of funding approach and the other is a project budgeting approach. When I make a recommendation in relation to a project budget, I am talking about looking forward over the full life of the project, figuring out how much it will cost, where one will spend the money and then asking, "When will we be able to fund it out of our available resources?" We have ended up on occasion talking at cross purposes with one another because we have these two concepts of what budgeting means. I am sorry if that is very technical but it does lead us to a situation where statements may be misinterpreted.
I have one last quick question in relation to the submission to the EU on the flood mapping, which was only a fraction of what was to be submitted and the reasons given for that. On the flood risk hazard maps, a decision was taken not to submit them and it might of been for genuine reasons. This may be more of a question for the Comptroller and Auditor General. Should we be cherry-picking like that and deciding what information we give or do not give? This is an EU directive and we either should be in compliance or not.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
One thing that strikes me about this is that the benefit of a strategic approach to flood risk mapping and planning, etc., is to the benefit of the Irish people. I do not see that it actually has much relevance to the EU because it is not funding measures to respond in general.
The directive was concerned that all of Europe would be advancing at the same kind of pace and when the directive came along, it had deadlines in it and they were taken up as being the national deadlines. I would say in this situation we should have had our own deadlines anyway for delivering this and we should be reporting progress in relation to that. That is just an observation on the EU's role.
As to why the EU would be penalising us for being late on these, there is probably not a lot of reason because it does not affect the Single Market or whatever. However, getting to strategic delivery of flood protection and flood response is in the Irish interest.
I have a number of questions. I will not repeat the ones which have already been asked. I have a degree of sympathy for the OPW in relation to this topic because it is virtually impossible to measure the scale of this. I have spoken on this topic before and I also feel that, perhaps, some people do not want to know the scale of it because the costs associated with it could be incredible into the future. It is almost like being in a slow bicycle race towards the inevitable future we know we will have to embrace, which is putting in flood prevention measures across the country. That said, there were serious concerns in relation to costs, timelines and the management of the process. At the initiation of this, nine projects were proposed, which number was then reduced to four. I know some projects were done by local authorities in different combinations and avenues. Were there projects which did not get to the starting line? How were projects ranked? Surely, there is a piece of paper somewhere recording the ranking on the four and how the decision was made. There must be some critical analysis somewhere. The projects were not just picked at random.
Ms Clare McGrath:
My colleagues might come on this, but I was saying earlier that the one that was up there that we were proceeding with was the Lee because we saw that as combining a multiplicity of scenarios that would give us the greatest benefit of the learning. Others we were including because there already had been some work done on them. We were looking at it from the point of view of our own resourcing at the time because we were moving from the policy towards implementation of the national CFRAM. So, we were looking at our own resourcing and it was about managing that as well. We wanted to do one internally completely and we wanted to do one with those managing external. So, we actually said "How can we narrow it down so we are getting the maximum learning from the optimum number?".
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
I may be able to help. If page 72 could be brought up, I refer to appendix C from the outline implementation plan. It lists nine potential projects, including Cork city and the River Lee, and there are explanations there. It is a high risk location and a priority study. The Suir catchment is also there, but the other two are not. Then, one has the other seven projects there which were identified at that stage and the reasons those would have been targeted for inclusion.
Mr. Tony Smyth:
There are two there, the Matt and the Ward rivers, which are in north County Dublin. That would have been comprehended in the Fingal-east Meath area. Schemes would have been progressing and brought forward because of flood events on the Blackwater, the two main areas being Mallow and Fermoy, and dealt with in that way. The Suir we were doing in-house and regarding the Slaney, the main risk is Enniscorthy, which is progressing as a scheme.
I have no doubt. My question, however, regards wanting to see documentary evidence of this rather than commentary. Can the OPW provide that to the committee after this meeting? I do not expect the witnesses to have it here. I am sure the arguments are valid and just want to know from a management structure point of view that there was a process in place to do this.
I have a number of other questions which I might throw out and they can be answered collectively. In relation to the overruns, I take the comment. It was a good comment that budgeting not budget overruns are done. In relation to value-for-money, is the OPW satisfied that it has been achieved? In relation to the budget overruns, I cannot see a recalibration of the publicised timelines and costs at various junctures. Is the OPW happy from a management point of view that this was communicated? Given the length of the time period, there was a recalibration of the costs. Surely, that was analysed. I do not know if any of us working in public life was made aware of that. If we were, the witnesses might tell us how that happened.
What efforts, if any, were made with local authorities to put SLAs in place? The following is a bugbear of mine. I heard Mr. Adamson talk about working with European colleagues on state-of-the-art technology. The accuracy of the work and the data modelling concerns me greatly. I have referenced this before. I share with Deputy Connolly the belief that lengthy public consultation is necessary, but the length of time these maps are in place in a consultation format is of concern. The data being used in some of the maps are extremely concerning, because I do not believe they are accurate. I am fairly confident that they are inaccurate in many cases. While the public consultation filters down that process, my direct experience from Newport, Tipperary, and other cases where people came to me, is that the computer generated maps are causing real issues and in some cases hardship because local authorities are sometimes making reference to them for planning and development decisions. That is causing serious problems. We understand that there has to be an initial process and that the OPW has to edge it down, but it has to happen more quickly because it is affecting people's daily lives. The issue is sterilisation of decision making when it comes to development or planning, which is having economic impacts in certain parts of the country. Can the OPW let us know about data modelling and accuracy?
I have experienced many minor works projects, some of which are exceptional and work well. Is there a process in place for measuring continually the learnings out of those? What management process is in place to do that? That brings me to the next question. On decisions on demountable versus permanent structures, there have been learnings from cases that made sure that the demountable defences could be used. Is that a continuous process? I am sure it is but I want to see how it is documented.
On budgeting, we talk about looking backwards. I listened to the Comptroller and Auditor General's comments, but on future-proofing for budgeting, I estimate that the scale of the budget required to implement the plans which will come out will be seismic. What processes have been put in place to measure things so that we as public servants collectively can estimate for the future? We have done it already, but is it accurate? Based on the experience and learnings to date and based on the fact that the OPW has not been able to achieve its budget up to a point, for which I accept that there are some legitimate reasons, how can we predict costs into the future? My assessment is that costs here will be seismic. How can the OPW help us in doing that?
Ms Clare McGrath:
I will take the questions in order in which I think they were asked. I was asked about value for money.
It would be helpful for me if the committee could hear the length of time it takes to deliver a flood relief scheme. We have to go onto land belonging to other people who might not benefit from the scheme and we have to determine matters without full information. Sometimes, we have to wait until we are in the river to find out some of the issues that can arise. It is very unlike putting up a hoarding around a site. There is a long, complicated process to ensure that, when we do it, we do it right. It can take five to seven years to deliver a flood relief scheme. During the pre-feasibility phase, when we model and develop the scheme, we look in-house or externally to identify the source of the problem and the viable flood risk management measures that could potentially be provided for the area. As part of this, we have to collect data and hydraulic modelling. This can take 12 months. As part of it, we need to look beyond it in greater detail. With the national programme for all the areas and the six plans, we have potentially done up to 24 months of the work as part of this for the individual locations where we will progress to schemes. There has been an element of achieving additional value in terms of the economies of scale regarding the work that has been undertaken.
Regarding the SLAs and the engagement with local authorities, we have a prescribed system regarding what needs to be achieved to undertake minor works, and the local authorities commit to it. We have committed to doing random audits of it to ensure they are delivering from it. These are done through our regional structures, which are responsible for maintenance of arterial drainage schemes and urban schemes. Through our regional structure and what has been coming in from minor project proposals from local authorities, there is a gathering of information on what is and is not feasible. We have been doing this for some time. I accept that we need more formalised SLAs regarding local authorities, particularly where large works are to be undertaken. The local authorities are equally seized of the need to address the issues for local communities. It is about working together.
Ms Clare McGrath:
For coming out of the CFRAM and each of the plans and each of the multi-criteria analyses being applied to the proposals within those, costings are being done and they are coming in to us. We will have to go through the stage of examining and validating the costs relative to proceeding. There will be recalibration.
Mr. Mark Adamson:
For the development of the preliminary flood risk assessments, we developed indicative maps nationally. We issued them to the local authorities to help inform their decision making around planning. We clearly stated that they should not be used as a sole basis for planning decisions, given that they were very much indicative. The maps we are developing through the CFRAM process are a number of orders of magnitude better in terms of their level of detail and the technical approaches being used to develop them. In terms of the way the maps are being developed, we are up there with best practice. They remain in draft form for quite a period, given that we want to ensure we get them right.
When the first drafts are produced, they are submitted for technical review to ensure the consultants are applying the best approaches. The local authorities examine them. We then take them out to public consultation days. We held more than 200 public consultation days around the country. Our teams go out and are available to talk people through the maps and explain what they show, what they mean and how they are developed, and very much take comments on whether people consider that they correspond with their understanding of flood risk in the area. Having gone through this process, we had the formal consultation process under the statutory instrument that transposed the directive. At the end of 2015, we went through this process and we have received objections on approximately 25 to 30 individual maps out of thousands of maps. We have developed maps that are the best achievable. While there are data deficits in some locations, they are the best we can achieve at this time.
Regarding planning and the use of the maps, under the guidelines set out in 2009 by the OPW and the Department, it is specified that we should try to avoid development on flood plains. The maps can help inform those decisions. However, ultimately, planning decisions are a matter for the planning authorities.
Ms Clare McGrath:
When our consultants are examining proposals to provide solutions where there are levels of risk we need to address, they consider all solutions to deliver the protection. We can do the hard engineering and put walls up in the middle of the river or whatever. However, this will not work at a local level. We have to work through what is technically viable and what is feasible socially, economically and environmentally. This is done at project level, and it is the reason we have variations between-----
I have seen this work and I have no doubt. I saw the social element in Clonmel. It was incredible. Some small elements must be dealt with. My real issue is about how it is documented. Earlier, I asked if documentation on decision making could be provided. I would like to ensure it is all documented so we can see the lessons to be learned comprehensively and it is not just piecemeal or off the cuff.
Mr. Tony Smyth:
It would be a technical decision within the project, taking into account the various options. In Clonmel, solid walls were too high for the locals, and that was why we went for the demountables. The reason in Mallow and Fermoy was that one has to block the main road into the town and one cannot provide permanent defences. Given that there is a cost to erecting them during a flood, a permanent wall would be a cheaper long-term option. The decision is taken within the project, with assessment of which is the most cost-effective option.
I thank the team for the presentation. I would like to recap on some of the evidence we have heard this morning and the explanations given that the overruns on the Estimates are due to a learning curve. The learning curve has cost €5.5 million more than the additional anticipated costs and a delay of a decade. The programme direction and progress reports were lacking.
I note what has been said about the OPW getting it right. Is the OPW confident that the scope of the immediate work to be done in certain designated areas, earmarked on page 42, can be achieved in a timely fashion and within budget having regard to what Deputy Kelly said about future plans and given what it has learned from this experience?
Flood mapping was referred to and is having a huge impact on development centres across the country, effectively sterilising areas. Is there confidence that the schemes can be developed? We are going into a period of development again but huge areas are effectively being sterilised by the mapping now in place in various development plans.
Ms Clare McGrath:
The call has to be made as to whether flood mitigation measures are put in place on top of what might be required for planning purposes in those areas if there are plans to proceed. The concern is the terror and horror for people of flooding in their homes. Would any have been avoided if the planning guidelines been in place in 2009? There is a question around that.
The contracts placed for the pilots were not €3.5 million; the contracts placed were €6.8 million. It was known because the information that came back from the market was that was the price for what we were asking them to do. We did get that estimate wrong but that was the price, placed at €6.8 million. That learning fed into the national programme where we are coming in within the overall estimated budget. We have learned from that.
I take the point about development of schemes. We have been developing capital schemes. This is taking us 18 or 24 months on for each of these areas that we would otherwise consider individually but now we have it all together. It is a question of capacity to drive that forward, which is why we have the additional funds and that is profiled out.
In terms of Deputy Kelly's point, there is the scale of the problem that exists and political bodies and Departments being honest about it and the fund required. Does Ms McGrath feel that the money provided for the six year programme is adequate or conservative?
Ms Clare McGrath:
It is feasible to achieve that six year programme. I am not saying that ends the programme because what we will have now is prioritised, other than the ones that are in hand being developed or previously developed of the remainder of the 300 because this one is of most benefit to the environment, to communities and homes, the social benefit. We will work through them in that way. What has been programmed out and allocated from Government across all the demands to this will allow us to progress and it is scaling up from where we are now between €45 million and €50 million to being €100 million within a number of years. It is scaling up to deliver on that. It will continue beyond that but that is in the next round. We go to Government in the round but funding is being set out to 2021. That is the basis for this additional demand.
Thank you, and finally, very briefly, I want to raise two issues. One, in respect of the maps the OPW submits to local authorities, many local authorities include those maps in their development plans. Should they? You said a minute ago that they are indicative. Should they be part of their development plans because a development plan is the Bible. It is a bit late in the day to tell a planner he or she does not have to go by it when he or she says-----
Ms Clare McGrath:
Sorry, forgive me, I do mean that they should look at the maps and see what the hazard is and the zone but it is recognised that within town centres which might be at risk of flooding, in terms of development potential it is important to develop there. That is the justification test. Then there is a question of the measures that will additionally be put in place to manage the flood risk in the context of any planning decision. That is a planning decision.
A planner’s discretion is very constrained if there is a map from the OPW saying there is a flood risk here of one in 500 years.
The second point is that when people try to buy property in those areas, or in a town that never flooded, the bank’s solicitor checks it out and discovers it is a flood area and the bank will not advance the loan. I have encountered people who cannot sell houses that have never flooded because of an OPW map that has been incorporated into the local development plan. Do you see the problem?
When you send these maps to local authorities, is there a circular you send with them to explain how they should use them? Surely they do not just arrive in an envelope. What instructions or covering letter do you send with the maps for the local authorities to deal with? I will ask you to send it to the committee so that we can see whether what it says to them tallies with what they say to us. It is easy for them to blame me, so I want to square the circle.
Ms Clare McGrath:
Making all this effort, collectively, nationally, involves using that information to say we will not put people at risk. On the basis of the accuracy of those maps, there are risks - I take the point that was raised - and we will manage those and not create a situation where we turn around and say this is flooded and we need to defend something we built since making the maps.
You say you will send 13,000 maps to the European Commission. I am afraid that when they land there, they will be stamped. What legal significance will they have? Will we be told you cannot touch these maps, they are EU approved? There are local designations, national designations and EU designations. Will they end up with an EU designation because they end up in the Commission? Explain to us that there is not really a-----
Mr. Mark Adamson:
The Commission wants to know that we have prepared the maps in the first instance. We submit a relatively limited amount of information to the Commission to demonstrate that but the mapping will primarily reside on national portals. There is what is called the water information system for Europe that is operated by the Commission. That will indicate to users, be they in Ireland or elsewhere, that maps are available for a location but when people go to look at them, they will be redirected to the web portal here in Ireland. There would not be a stamp per sein that regard. We need to review the maps on a six yearly cycle. That is a requirement of the directive but our intention is to keep them reviewed on an ongoing basis so that if we become aware of information that might necessitate a change in the map, for example, if somebody builds a road embankment, then we want to update the map, not in six years’ time but as that data become available. We will be reviewing the maps and updating them on an ongoing basis to make sure they most accurately reflect the situation on the ground at that time.
Can you assist and liaise with the clerk? Whether it is the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government or the OPW which sends it out, we would like to see it.
Whether it is the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government or the OPW, we would like to see that guidance.
This document might be of help to us here to make sure there is a bit of consistency across local authorities, because we do hear of different local authorities using those maps differently. Some of them take it as the bible and there is no negotiation after it. Other local authorities do it differently.
At this stage, on behalf of the Committee of Public Accounts, I thank all of the witnesses from the OPW and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, as well as the Comptroller and Auditor General, for participating in this meeting. I thank them for the material they have supplied. We look forward to receiving various portions of information that they will send on to us. As soon as we receive that information, it will be a very formal and quick matter for us to dispose of the report without the presence of the witnesses.