Thursday, 3 December 2009
I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to raise this Adjournment matter and commend the Minister of State at the Department of Finance on his commitment to those who have been affected by recent flooding.
I wish to speak about the years of under investment by the Government in Cork's quay walls. These walls, which date back to the 18th century, are in a precarious state and cannot be expected to last much longer without repairs. Every year during Cork City Council's estimates process, Councillor Jim Corr raises the issue of funding to strengthen the quay walls.
The recent flooding in Cork resulted in the demolition of the quay walls at Grenville Place and the Mardyke. Cork City Council emergency crews and the Army have buttressed the walls with 3,000 tonnes of rubble and stone but, as Mr. Don Moore of the Irish Academy of Engineers has noted, it would be prudent to invest in the infrastructure of Cork's bridges and quay walls. The council lacks the resources to complete and strengthen the quay walls and needs capital funding from the Department of Finance or the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for this project. For the past eight years, the council has requested funding as part of its submission on its annual roads programme but has repeatedly been refused. The walls at Lancaster Quay, Mercy University Hospital, the Mardyke, Western Road and French's Quay require enhancement and protection.
The river and its quays are pivotal to Cork's road arteries. Further flooding calamities could cause major traffic disruption in addition to their potential for loss of life and property. When the council widened the road in front of City Hall, it spent its own money to improve Lapp's Quay. This is only a small part of the jigsaw but every planning permission granted for developments adjoining the quays, such as the Clarion Hotel, includes conditions on infrastructure improvements.
We need to invest in the quay walls and put in place a strategy to protect and enhance them. As part of a briefing given to Oireachtas Members last Monday, the city manager stated that he was engaging in examination of the city's bridges and walls. I hope the Minister of State can give me a commitment on the capital funding the council needs.
I thank Senator Buttimer for giving me the opportunity to discuss the serious flooding that occurred in Cork in recent weeks and the damage to the quay walls which resulted. I share his view of the importance of the matter.
The unprecedented flooding in recent few weeks has severely impacted on Cork city. While the prolonged heavy rain in the Cork area was a major factor in the flooding, breaches in the quay wall also contributed to its scale and severity. Many people and businesses have been badly affected by having to go without piped water, being evacuated from homes or having had to close operations. I extend my sympathies to all who have been disrupted by the flooding.
In recognition of the serious detrimental effects of the flooding on households throughout the country, the Government has introduced a humanitarian assistance fund. This fund, which has been provided with an initial €10 million, is being administered by the Department of Social and Family Affairs through local community welfare officers. The aim of the fund is to provide financial assistance to households which are not in position to meet costs for essential needs in the period immediately following the flooding. More details of the scheme can be obtained from the Department or local community welfare officers. Application forms are also available at www.welfare.ie.
I acknowledge the sterling efforts of the emergency response teams in Cork in responding to the flooding crisis. Without their intervention, the damage to social and economic infrastructure would have been even greater than has been the case.
While the flood waters in Cork are receding and some degree of normality may be returning to city life, now is the time to identify what needs to be done in the short, medium and long terms to defend the city against a repeat of the experience of recent weeks. The Lee catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, study was commissioned in 2006 as the pilot study for the national FRAM programme and is now nearing completion. The objective of the Lee CFRAM study is to identify and map existing and potential future flood risk areas in the Lee catchment through detailed hydrological and hydraulic modelling and flood mapping. This flood risk assessment also accounts for the likely impacts of land use change, urban development and climate change on flood risk. Once the flood risk has been quantified and mapped throughout the catchment with particular focus on developed areas and areas under potential development pressure a catchment flood risk management plan will be developed. This plan will include a prioritised set of actions, measures and works to manage the flood risk in the catchment. Work on finalising the Lee catchment flood risk management plan is still under way and is expected to be completed in early 2010. If the recent flooding had not occurred it would probably have been launched this month but account must now be taken of what has happened.
As part of the study and to facilitate future monitoring and maintenance programmes of flood defence structures in the Cork city and harbour area, a preliminary defence asset condition survey was undertaken for many of the existing structures around Cork city, including in particular the quay walls. Many of these defences have been identified as being in a fair to poor condition and as they were not constructed with the role of flood defence in mind they may not be considered appropriate as long-term flood defences. I understand some of the quay walls are 250 years old.
The next steps of the Lee CFRAM study are to review the risk assessment and proposed options in light of recent flood events and then complete the flood risk management plan for consultation. Initial reviews suggest that the level of fluvial flooding experienced on the morning of 20 November appears to be relatively consistent with the modelled level of fluvial risk from the Lee CFRAM study. Once this review is complete, the flood risk management plan and associated strategic environmental assessment will be published along with the flood maps for formal public consultation early in the new year. Once all relevant comments from this consultation have been addressed in the catchment flood risk management plan the study will be complete and the recommendations will be put forward for implementation on a phased basis.
While the Lee CFRAM report will provide the blueprint for a comprehensive and integrated strategy for managing flood risk in the Cork area, it will invariably take time and resources before it can be implemented in full. In the meantime, and in recognition of the relatively poor state of defence capacity of the quay walls, the OPW will enter into consultations with the city council with a view to devising an immediate plan to repair, improve and enhance the existing walls. While it will be a matter for the council to commission any necessary works on the walls, the question of funding will be addressed by the OPW. I hope the works will commence at the earliest opportunity.
The Office of Public Works will continue to work in partnership with Cork city and county councils to address the problem of the quay walls. Once again, I express my sympathy to those affected by the flooding and assure them of the Government's support for the efforts under way to address this problem and future flood risk problems in the Cork area. While there is a long-term process under way of studies, assessment and comprehensive recommendations for the entire River Lee catchment area, albeit with a particular focus on Cork city, more immediate action is required on the quay walls. We will do our best to assist Cork City Council technically, materially and, perhaps, even financially to get the work under way.
I hope the Minister of State's sentiments will bear fruit and that, after years of waiting, we will see the quay walls enhanced through the provision of Government investment. I thank him for being here, as it is good to have the line Minister of State present to respond to the matter.