Thursday, 26 October 2023
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Flood Risk Management
10. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to report on the progress made to date with respect to the implementation of the Midleton flood relief scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46920/23]
This question is related to the previous one, except it is looking into the future. I acknowledge the Minister of State's work and interest in this area in the past and most recently as well. The implementation of the Midleton flood relief scheme is a matter of great concern to people in the region. They are concerned that what happened last Wednesday, when a rain bomb landed on east Cork, west Waterford and other areas and caused such devastation and damage, will happen again. They want to know what progress has been made, what is the timeline, what is the scale, when are they going to see progress and whether there are any measures that can be enacted in the interim.
The Government launched a national CFRAM programme of 120 new flood relief schemes in 2018. While Midleton was part of this programme, major flooding in 2015 and again in 2016 was the catalyst to commence work on the design of the scheme. Cork County Council, which is leading the design of the scheme, appointed engineering and environmental consultants in 2017. Designing any flood relief scheme is complicated and requires data on flood sources and their associated risks. To date, some 100 schemes are at design and construction stage around the country. Midleton has proven to be one of the most complex schemes. As Deputy Stanton and other Deputies from the constituency will recognise, it has flood risks from four sources; namely, fluvial, tidal, groundwater and pluvial. In 2017 data did not exist on all sources and monitoring was required over a number of years to allow the flooding mechanism to be understood for the design of the scheme.
The need to gather data and the changes in regulatory requirements, including with regard to environmental assessments, increased the scale and scope of the design project. Three public participation days were held in 2017, 2020 and 2022, all of which were very well attended. As well as being a way of engaging with the local community on the scheme’s progress, these events served to gather additional information and assess the community's views on the emerging and more recently preferred option for the Midleton scheme. The preferred scheme has now been identified with a total budget of €50 million, which is three times the original budget from 2017. This highlights the scale of the project’s increase in scope. It also highlights that we have designed a scheme that is robust, supported by strong evidence, has the support of the community and is future-proofed and adaptable to climate change scenarios. The preferred option protects 580 properties against a one-in-100-years flood event, can give back flood insurance to the town and stands up to scrutiny once completed.
Having invested eight years in arriving at a preferred scheme, an assessment following Storm Babet is under way so we know we have a scheme that can meet the standard of protection required by the insurance industry. This assessment will take in the order of six to eight weeks. The next major step is to seek planning consent. Work has already begun on the environmental surveys to allow us to start the planning consent process early in 2024.
I thank the Minister of State for his response. It is optimistic. He might let me know when he expects shovels in the ground, as that is what people want to know. There are also proposals with respect to interim measures. At least two bridges in the Midleton area - Water-rock Bridge and Moore's Bridge, although there are others as well - are severely damaged and could collapse into rivers, causing further problems. There seems to be uncertainty as to who is responsible and can actually pay for their repair because they are on private property and the landowners cannot afford it. There is huge disruption if they are taken out. I have spoken to the Minister of State about this privately, but I ask him to direct his officials to ensure these decisions can be made quickly and without further hesitation and there is clarity with respect to funding. The local authority wants that straightaway. There are real questions that the people of Midleton and east Cork, who are worried about this happening again, want answered. Are there interim measures that can be put in place? When does the Minister of State expect shovels in the ground?
At the meeting we had on Tuesday with Cork County Council, the issue of interim measures was raised with the manager for the southern region of Cork, the director of services and the county engineer. The OPW has asked Cork County Council to assess the town and the flooded areas, including the Water-rock and Ballinacurra areas and the centre of the town, to see if there are interim measures that can be put forward while the scheme is under construction. Once Cork County Council turns that around, we will assess it very quickly. We have also told the council that if additional resources are required in terms of the scheme being brought to tender, and beyond to construction, we will consider that.
I am not going to give the Deputy a date. My priority is to get a successful planning application. The Deputy has often questioned me in this House on other schemes not only in east Cork but in the general CFRAM area. Unfortunately, I cannot give him a date. I can give him a commitment that it still exists as it did the week before the storm when the steering committee met. The money required for Midleton, which has now gone up 300% from the original budget, will be made available by the Government and the Government will do everything in its power to deliver that scheme.
I thank the Minister of State. I acknowledge his personal commitment to this particular area and the problems that have occurred, as well as the commitment he has just given that interim measures will be financed with haste and without any major red tape and bureaucracy.
Will the Minister of State comment on the need into the future - I hope we will not see it - for a more robust early warning system? We had a situation where this rain was anticipated. If people had been told clearly and quickly to get their stock out of the way and to protect their homes and businesses, we may have avoided some of the devastation; not all of it, but some. It is not just Midleton as areas outside the town, including Killeagh, Mogeely, Whitegate and Ladysbridge, were also impacted by the storm. The Minister of State might direct his officials, or indeed the responsible authority, to have a look at those areas.
I support my colleague, Deputy Stanton, on this. There is an urgency around getting mitigation measures put in place which the Minister of State will be familiar with. We must wait a period of time before the flood defences can be built. I welcome the funding being made available to progress this as a matter of urgency, but obviously we have to go through the statutory and regulatory barriers first. I am sure the Minister of State will give us his full support in that regard. There is a real urgency around mitigation in the interim in case something occurs in the next few years before these flood defences are built. I was with Councillor William O'Leary in Rathcormack, and it is worth referencing that it is awaiting a decision. It is in tranche 2. I want to see whether it can be brought forward to tranche 1 in order that works can be got under way immediately to protect Rathcormack from flooding as well. There are areas that will require consideration of our flood defences following what happened with Storm Babet. I am certain it is something the Minister of State will continue to engage with Deputy Stanton and me on.
I ask that renewed and special emphasis be placed on the necessity for arterial drainage. It should be focused on as an issue that can have an effect all over the country. The emphasis at the moment is on rewetting. After recent events, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will agree with me that the country is wet enough right now and that in order to maintain the quality of the soil and to avoid landslides, etc., it is essential to ensure the water gets away as quickly as possible. The policy heretofore has been to slow down the manner in which the water is disposed of. It is necessary now to put in place measures to clean rivers and waterways, improve them where necessary and have an overall national plan to ensure the country is in a position to get rid of the water supply we have at the moment. I hope we can cater for that by way of special emphasis.
I agree with Deputy Durkan. If the arterial drainage provisions had not been in place in the north and eastern part of County Cork, in the Blackwater catchment in particular, we would be dealing with a far greater catastrophe than that with which we are already dealing. To put it in context, seven people lost their lives in Storm Babet in the United Kingdom. We are very lucky that we are not talking about a loss of life event here on the scale of the water bomb that was dropped on Midleton and surrounding areas.
On Deputy Stanton’s question, an early flood warning system is under development by Met Éireann and the OPW is feeding into that. It is on track for delivery. Funding is not an issue in respect of the delivery of the large Midleton flood relief scheme. I told Cork County Council on Tuesday, and I say this to the other Deputies who raised this too, if they believe there are interim measures that will work – there is no point in putting in interim measures just to make people feel well about themselves – to come to us as soon as possible and we will turn that around.
We are having the specific issues which the Deputy raised with me yesterday evening examined by the Department.