Seanad debates

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Commencement Matters

Drainage Schemes Status

2:30 pm

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, to the House.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister for coming to the House to discuss this important issue. On 19 November 2009, an appalling event occurred in Bandon town when the River Bandon burst its banks. The resulting flooding was of a type that is seen approximately once in 100 years, causing extensive damage to homes and premises. Many property owners in the town are still unable to obtain insurance against flooding.

Residents and business owners are dumbfounded that following a costly obligatory consultation process on the development of a new drainage and sewage scheme for the town, Irish Water has apparently torn up the consultant's recommendation and instead proposes to pursue a solution based on the existing, obsolete infrastructure. It seems the company is trying to get away with a rather cheap solution in recommending that a one-pipe system will be adequate. In rejecting this proposal, experts, engineers and residents note the irony that while home owners and farmers are obliged to upgrade their septic tanks, Irish Water sees fit to put forward such an anti-environmental solution in the current regulatory climate.

Will the Minister insist that this second-rate solution is not acceptable in Bandon or anywhere else in Ireland? Irish Water should not be allowed to get away with it. If it is a question of funding alone, where is the money that was ring-fenced for this purpose, with cast iron promises from various Ministers in both the current Government and its predecessor? I was in Bandon in the aftermath of that dire flooding and saw premises under 5 ft. and 6 ft. of water. The townspeople have been extremely patient but I am asking the Minister to give a guarantee today that they will get the best scheme possible and construction will begin sooner rather than later. It is past time this issue was addressed. It is almost six years since that appalling flood and nobody can guarantee that a similar event will not take place along the Bandon river basin. If it should do so before the drainage infrastructure is in place, it will be a disaster. The related flood relief scheme, which is being dealt with by the Office of Public Works, must also proceed as quickly as possible. I hope the Minister will give me good news to take back to west Cork.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I hope to do so. I thank the Senator for providing me with the opportunity to outline the current status of wastewater services in Bandon. State investment in water services infrastructure was previously channelled through my Department's water services investment programme and the rural water programme, a function which is now largely devolved to local authorities. The high-level goal of the water services investment programme was to ensure the timing and scale of such investment facilitated economic and other development, compliance with statutory requirements for drinking water and wastewater treatment, and the achievement of environmental sustainability objectives.Bandon sewerage scheme phase 2 was included in the last investment programme which ran from 2010 to the end of 2013, with work to be carried out under separate contracts for the network and an upgrade of the wastewater treatment plant as well. As the Senator is no doubt aware, since 1 January 2014 Irish Water has had statutory responsibility for all aspects of water planning, delivery and operation at national, regional and local levels. This includes responsibility for the delivery of water services capital infrastructure.

Shortly after the transfer of responsibilities from local authorities to the new utility, Irish Water published its proposed capital investment plan for 2014-2016, which is available on its website. Under the capital investment plan, investment is prioritised where it can deliver the most urgently needed improvements in drinking water quality, leakage, water availability, wastewater compliance, efficiencies and customer service.

The Bandon sewerage scheme is included in the investment plan and Irish Water has provided me with an update on progress on the scheme. I understand that Bandon is served by a combined sewer system which collects storm and foul flows. The network suffers from flooding because it is overloaded and I am aware of the floods to which the Senator referred. The initial design included a two pipe system in the town, with new storm and foul combined sewers. For practical reasons, the storm pipes were only capable of removing about 25% of the storm flows from the foul system and did not resolve the flooding problem.

Irish Water has redesigned a scheme to fully resolve the flooding problem, comply with required environmental standards and to have capacity for future foul flows if they arise. The initial design of the scheme would have cost some €8 million. However, the current re-designed proposals will cost approximately €5.2 million. Irish Water has confirmed that consulting engineers are in place and the detailed design is at an advanced stage. Subject to agreement with Cork County Council regarding the inclusion or otherwise of storm water sewers, Irish Water expects to tender the contract before the end of quarter 3, 2015, which I expect to happen.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister for coming before the House and giving his response. There is a lot of anxiety among the flood group, townspeople, ratepayers, shopkeepers and residents that the scheme which will be delivered is not what was originally proposed and planned. I am putting the Minister on notice in a gentle, rather than adversarial way. If the scheme which will be delivered and is expected to go tender towards the end of the summer or the start of the autumn is less that adequate for the needs of the people of Bandon and its surrounding areas and if it is in any way a second rate scheme, he or I will never hear the end of it.

I thank him for his response and I hope things can proceed. The people of Bandon have been waiting for generations for this scheme. Not alone will it have to be efficient and up to the best standards, it should also be the best available to ensure that the residents, businesspeople and ratepayers in Bandon will get the very best scheme possible, having waited almost six years for it to come to fruition.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I thank the Senator. I am aware of the anxiety of those in Bandon. I am quite conscious of the issues. I know the town quite well, as the Senator knows, and this is a real issue. I want to assure the Senator that under no circumstances would Irish Water contemplate putting in place a substandard scheme. Many schemes have been re-examined, such as the Ringsend plant in Dublin where greater efficiencies and a better service have been provided as a result of the work Irish Water, as a considered entity with economies, can put into such schemes.

I am quite confident that what is proposed in Bandon, even though it involves a smaller, but quite substantial amount of money, will deal with all of the issues the Senator has raised. I will meet Irish Water later today and will raise the issue again.