Seanad debates

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

10:30 am

Mark Wall (Labour) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I look forward to working with him on many of these important matters. I reassure him that, unfortunately, flooding does not recognise the many Labour Party doors in the country.I wish to bring a number of flooding incidents to the Minister of State's attention, and I hope to be given updates on a number of flood relief schemes for the area where I live and County Kildare. Over the last few months, I have been contacted by a number of homeowners in Athy and other nearby towns who have been unable to sell their homes because of the need to have flood insurance, which is a requirement for the mortgage drawdown of the buyers of those homes. I am informed that a large number of properties are shown to be at risk of flooding in Athy, particularly in two estates in the town. All these houses were constructed prior to the mapping that is part of CFRAM. I am aware of the public consultation that took place under the CFRAM process, but these homeowners would never have considered that this consultation would affect them until they tried to sell their homes.

I am informed that, as part of the OPW's flood risk management plan adopted by Kildare County Council in July 2018, a flood relief scheme is proposed for Athy, which will provide protection against flooding for all existing properties currently affected. This scheme has been prioritised by both the OPW and Kildare County Council. A brief is being prepared for the appointment of consultants to carry out the design of the scheme. According to the reply I received, the OPW has a framework in place so the timescale is considerably shorter than it would be if an open procurement were to be carried out. I am told there will be an update from Kildare County Council in December. The proposed measure consists of building hard defences. At-risk properties in Athy would be protected by a series of hard defences consisting of flood embankments and walls. These hard defences would be set back from the river channel where possible and would protect from the 1% annual exceedance probability, AEP, fluvial flood event with an estimated average height of 1.2 m and a length of 2.9 km.

There are also flooding problems in the towns of Portarlington, Monasterevin, Castledermot, the areas associated with those towns and across the Barrow basin. I have followed up on these problems with the local authority. A reply I and my colleagues received recently regarding one of the properties stated that while it might seem unlikely that flooding would occur at the property, the level of flooding shown on the OPW mapping is for a 1% AEP event, roughly equivalent to a one in 100 year storm. The 1% AEP event is the standard level of protection for flood schemes and the level of protection required by insurance companies. The property owner was advised to contact the insurance ombudsman, but the advice went on to say that in the opinion of the official not much could be done regarding the sale of the house. Even the perimeter wall in one of the estates was not considered a sufficient barrier. Does the Minister of State have an update on the proposed scheme for Athy and the other towns I have mentioned? It seems unfair for those selling their homes that the work is imminent and they must wait for it. Can the Minister of State suggest any other way to help these owners who are holding on, pending the sale of their homes? It is utterly affecting their daily lives.

I am also aware of localised flooding in many other locations, including roads and housing estates throughout the local authority area in which I live. Many of these problems are historical but were controlled by annual maintenance, such as water cuts and drains clearance. Is the Office of Public Works considering any programmes of annual maintenance in association with local authorities? This is a growing problem. Flooding issues that were under control appear to have been causing many problems over the last number of years. It appears that we have moved away from the historical maintenance programmes. I accept that because of the workload of local authorities, they have had to move away from this programme to bigger-ticket items, but I have always said that there was a reason for these water cuts and drain clearance programmes. It is time we considered reinstating them and using them more consistently.

I wish to bring to the Minister of State's attention a number of problems with drainage works in towns in County Kildare and elsewhere that have been brought to my attention. I am sure the Minister of State is aware of the problem, but the condition and, more worrying, the age of drains in these towns are causing many problems. In many cases, they are simply not fit for purpose in our modern age and are causing flooding incidents that affect private and commercial life in the towns. Are the Minister of State and Department considering a programme of works to assist local authorities with the replacement of these networks? I am aware of some premises being flooded numerous times because of the condition and age of the networks. For clarity, their age and condition is the problem for the drainage of surface water.

I thank the Minister of State for making himself available today, and I look forward to working closely with him on these important matters.

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