Thursday, 1 October 2015
Flood Risk Assessments
11. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the status of the catchment flood risk assessment and management studies; when they will be implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33416/15]
Deputy Fleming’s question is timely in the light of the capital plan. Good progress is being made on the national catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, programme which is the principal vehicle for implementing the EU floods directive and forms the strategic focus of national flood policy for some years, since approximately 2006. Engineering consultants have been appointed by the Office of Public Works, OPW, to implement the programme, through six regional studies. Local authorities and other stakeholders are involved, in partnership with the OPW, on steering groups and progress groups across the six study areas. I am sure Deputy Fleming and all Deputies in this House are aware of and have been involved in the consultation days in their own areas. This programme is focusing on 300 mainly urban, areas for further assessment, AFAs, including 90 coastal areas. It involves the production of predictive flood hazard and risk mapping for each location, the development of preliminary flood risk management options and the production of flood risk management plans.
The flood risk management plans will include a prioritised list of measures, both structural and non-structural, to address flood risk in an environmentally sustainable and cost effective manner. Structural measures in the plans will be taken to outline design stage. The plans will be used to determine national priorities for State investment in flood defences, on a systematic and objective basis that takes into account social and environmental factors as well as economic criteria.
Under the programme, draft predictive flood maps have been produced. They are currently available to view on the website. They were the subject of a series of local public consultation days which concluded in April 2015. The flood maps will be finalised following a statutory national consultation scheduled for late 2015. A series of local public consultation days on the preliminary flood risk management options is under way in the west and Shannon CFRAM study areas. The flood risk management plans, namely, the solutions, are scheduled to be completed in late 2016. Further information is available on www.cfram.iebut ultimately, as the Deputy is aware, this is a major plan which has been undertaken over a significant period of years by the Office of Public Works. We are getting very close to the point whereby this time next year we will have the emergence of not just maps but potential solutions for many of the 300 communities. It will require significant investment. It is a matter for Government but the plan could take ten years to roll out at an ultimate cost of approximately €1 billion.
I appreciate what the Minister of State said about the three areas for further assessment in the 300 locations but perhaps he could give me an overall picture. A few years ago we had river basin catchment plans for the rivers Lee and Shannon and in the south east, among other areas. Perhaps they are the six regional study plans to which the Minister of State referred. I do not recall whether there were six or eight.
I heard that Europe has indicated it does not want six bitty plans for Ireland but one national plan. Will much work be involved in joining up the six plans into one national plan? One could say that all that is required is for them to be added together. However, it should not be as simple as that. We are a single island. Could the Minister of State refer to the transition from that method of operating to following the EU advice that we should have one national plan? The view was that the island is too small for so many individual plans.
Could the Minister of State also elaborate on the statutory national consultation process, which he said would take place in late 2015? A reply to a previous parliamentary question indicated it would be held later “this summer”. We have missed the boat somewhat in that regard. Could the Minister of State clarify the position?
I accept the point made by Deputy Fleming. I expect the consultation to take place very shortly, in the coming weeks. We have carried out more consultation in this country than we ever had to do on CFRAM. That was the appropriate thing to do. We put in new layers of consultation, which exceeded our obligations under the EU floods directive. We must now physically publish the maps.
The various CFRAM areas will come together to offer Ireland’s national flood plan, which will be the CFRAM solution. The programme has involved the capture of approximately 10,000 sq. km. of detailed aerial survey data, which is approximately 13% of the total land area, 6,673 km of channel survey data and the development of models of all the major river systems in the country.
I am especially proud that we took the decision to factor in climate change to the CFRAM process. We did not have to factor that in under the current EU directives but it is likely it will be required in future. Both the flood maps and the identification and outline design of flood risk management measures will consider two potential future scenarios, including the potential impact of climate change. That will ensure our flood risk management strategies and the measures set out in the plan are robust in the face of an uncertain future. An incredible body of work that has been done by officials in the Office of Public Works in consultation with local authorities is coming to fruition. We need to ensure the political will to fund the plan is available. The Minister, Deputy Howlin, has clearly shown that is the Government’s position. We must get on with delivering the process. I expect the solutions for communities to be delivered around this time next year.
I wish to raise two particular issues with the Minister of State. The first is the draft flood maps that are currently available. They are very important. I ask that the Minister of State would give a little guidance to local authorities in respect of their county development plans. I said previously to the Minister of State that some local authorities included the draft plans in their county development plans, as a result of which financial institutions refused to give loans in areas that were considered to be a possible flood risk within a 100-year period. The situation caused significant damage. I accept the Minister of State said one should not use the plans until they are finalised, but what are local authorities to use in the meantime given that they should take some account of the plans? Local authorities are in a limbo situation.
The second issue I wish to raise relates to Irish Water. Much of our drinking water comes from rivers and the adverse impact of flooding can affect water quality. Could the Minister of State explain the involvement of Irish Water in the process from a water quality point of view, given that some of the areas in question which are prone to flooding are the source of drinking water?
I am pleased the Deputy raised the issue of planning. I visited far too many homes where people have been flooded in houses that should never have been built but were, due to irresponsible planning by local authorities throughout the country. The publication of the CFRAM maps does not create risk. The maps tell people about the risk that exists. There is often a misconception that the maps are creating new risk. It is better to know. There are people who will be surprised at the information presented in the maps. Although they have lived in a home all their lives they are only now learning from the maps that their home is potentially at risk of flooding due to climate change and other factors.
The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, in conjunction with the Office of Public Works, has developed guidelines for flood risk and the planning system. The guidelines on the planning system and flood risk management 2009 have introduced a comprehensive and transparent framework for the incorporation of flood risk identification, assessment and management into the planning process. The guidelines were issued in 2009 by the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000. Planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála are required to have regard to the guidelines in carrying out their functions under the Planning Acts. Taken together with the flood maps, they should improve decision making on building in areas at risk from flooding. That should happen from now on. When analysing schemes, we will not factor into the cost-benefit analysis where councils decide to pursue irresponsible planning decisions and grant development.
I will seek an answer to the Deputy on the specific question on Irish Water and revert to him.