Wednesday, 25 November 2015
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris, for taking the time to come into the House to respond to the Commencement matter I raise, namely, to seek funding to combat coastal erosion at Tullaghan, County Leitrim, which seriously threatens Tynte Lodge. The house has now come into private ownership. The Burns family have great plans for Tynte Lodge, which was built in 1750. It is Leitrim's only built heritage on the coastal tourist trail of the Wild Atlantic Way.
I acknowledge the work that has been done to date by my colleague, Councillor Justin Warnock of Kinlough, who raised this issue at a recent meeting of the Manorhamilton municipal district to seek funding from the Office of Public Works to combat the coastal erosion at Tullaghan that seriously threatens Tynte Lodge. According to Councillor Warnock, having assumed ownership, the new owners are actively working on heritage, culture and education projects. The old lodge and its castellated structure overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. It has the potential to be a significant tourist attraction on Leitrim's section of the Wild Atlantic Way. I understand from the discussions that took place at the Leitrim meeting that representatives of Leitrim County Council are to meet with representatives of the Office of Public Works for advice on how to proceed with an application for funding to secure the future of the only listed coastal property in County Leitrim. In a sense, the question is self-evident. I would be most grateful for the support of the Minister of State in ensuring that this listed building does not fall into the sea. The Minister of State will be familiar with the photograph that has been published in the Leitrim Observershowing its exact location, which gives a very strong indication that if something is not done, then inevitably coastal erosion will swamp the house and knock it into the sea.
I thank Senator Mooney and Councillor Warnock, who raised this matter with the Senator, for giving me the opportunity to speak in the Seanad on the subject of coastal erosion, on a specific issue affecting County Leitrim.
Coastal erosion is a natural and ongoing process which takes place around the entire coastline of Ireland. Senator Mooney has highlighted a case in which coastal erosion is posing a threat to an imposing and historic building. In other cases, coastal erosion may threaten human life, land or infrastructure such as roads. However, it must be recognised that coastal erosion also has beneficial effects such as providing natural nourishment and supply of sediment to adjacent beaches. Due to the considerable extent and nature of the Irish coastline impacted by erosion and the fact it is an ongoing natural process, it would be uneconomical and impractical for the State to protect all of this coastline. That is the balance the Office of Public Works, in conjunction with local authorities, needs to strike.
In the first instance, it is a matter for local authorities to identify and prioritise areas of their respective coastlines considered to be under significant threat from erosion and to put forward proposals central government for funding of appropriate erosion management measures.The Office of Public Works has a scheme in place entitled the minor flood mitigation works and coastal protection scheme. Under this scheme, applications are considered for measures costing not more than €500,000 in each instance. Studies are also funded under this scheme. Funding of up to 90% of the cost is available for eligible projects. Any approach to addressing problems of coastal erosion must be informed by an assessment of the risks involved, in some cases a do nothing or no active intervention approach might well be the most appropriate management response and international studies have borne this out. Some previous interventions to solve local erosion problems have exacerbated coastal erosion at other locations or have generated other environmental problems. It is quite a complex matter.
The OPW requires that proposals and funding applications for structural measures to prevent and mitigate coastal erosion should be done in conjunction with an appropriate coastal erosion risk management study which fully investigates, substantiates and demonstrates the merits of any measures being proposed. Such measures usually require the investment of substantial amounts of public funds. In order to ensure value for money, it is considered best practice to carry out a study in advance of undertaking any measures. A study should include technical, economic, social and environmental criteria and should ensure that due consideration is given to the full range of management options. I understand that the local authority, in this case, Leitrim County Council, is considering making an application to the Office of Public Works, under the minor flood mitigation works and coastal protection scheme for funding of a coastal erosion risk management study at Tynte Lodge. Council officials have sought a meeting with the OPW to discuss how the case may be progressed and I am happy to confirm to Senator Mooney that my office will make senior engineering staff available to meet with council officials in the near future to explain the guidelines relevant to the minor works scheme so that they can submit the best possible application. Any application that the council may make under the scheme will then be considered by the OPW in accordance with the scheme eligibility criteria and having regard to the overall availability of funds for flood risk management and coastal protection. The best thing to happen now is for the senior engineering staff of the OPW to meet officials from Leitrim County Council to best advise them on how the scheme works so that the county council can make a decision on whether to submit an application. I can assure the Senator that if an application is submitted, my office will assess it as a matter of priority.
I am very grateful to the Minister of State. As the Acting Chairman will know, as he comes from that part of County Leitrim, we are very proud that our 2.5 miles of coastline dictates that Leitrim is a maritime county. That is usually a pub quiz question. We are very proud of that particularly lovely part of County Leitrim. If Tynte Lodge progresses along the lines which the new owners are indicating, it will be a big boost to local tourism and to the county as a whole. I wish the new owners, the Burns family well in that regard. I am grateful to the Minister of State for his response and look forward to a fruitful meeting between representatives of Leitrim County Council and the OPW, which will lead to ensuring the building will be protected in the long term.
The Acting Chairman, as a Leitrim man, will be interested that this historic building is described on the national inventory of architectural heritage website, published by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, as an imposing Georgian country house built in circa 1750, occupying a prominent site overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The site includes two stone folly towers and a series of walled gardens and encloses and the lodge and towers are both listed buildings. I understand the new owner of the property has been in touch with my colleague, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Humphreys, in relation to her plans for the property.
My note informs me that County Leitrim has only 5 km of a coastline, which is 2.5 miles, and, therefore, it is fair to say that the council's knowledge or experience of dealing with coastal erosion is probably minimal compared to other local authorities. I think it prudent that my senior engineering team would meet the council officials and offer them the best advice on how to proceed.