Wednesday, 19 January 2022
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Flood Risk Management
I thank the Minister of State for being here to take my Commencement debate. The fact that he, as the Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, is here shows his commitment to this flooding project in my part of the world. I also thank him for engaging with Louth County Council, particularly last summer when he came to see the projects directly, to sign off on them, and to make sure they were kept on track.
We have seen a number of notable flooding events, especially in the Dundalk and Blackrock areas in 2008, 2014, 2016 and two years ago in 2020. These areas are at very significant risk of coastal flooding. We have seen that future risks of flooding have increased because of a whole variety of things, with climate change being just one of them. Dundalk and Blackrock are areas of natural low lying topography. Such areas are an issue because they call for a much more sensitive approach to be adopted in flood relief schemes and the type of construction necessary. For example, the proposed flood relief scheme for both Dundalk and Blackrock south consists of the construction of a series of hard defences, including flood embankments, walls, rock armour, coastal protection, barriers, road raising and the tanking of two properties. When such work goes ahead, it will protect more than 1,800 residential properties.
I wish to raise another important point. There is huge ambition to create a greenway that stretches from Carlingford to Dundalk to Blackrock and onwards.However, I wish to refer to the Bellurgan to Dundalk to Blackrock greenway. It cannot go ahead or we cannot do anything about it until this project has reached a certain stage. Once it has reached a certain area, we can then start applying to the Government for funding for greenways. A greenway along this area would be very important for tourism, but it will not happen until this project is brought to a certain level. It would be good to know at what stage in this process the Minister of State believes Louth County Council can start applying for funding for a greenway and where it can do that when it comes to the flood defences.
The other thing that interests me is the Minister of State's overall view of what the timelines are. I realise these are long-term projects and that they are not done overnight. It is now 2022 so if all goes well, what does the Minister of State envision as the completion date? Is it 2025 or as far as 2026? A very detailed public consultation took place last October, which is very important as well.
Substantial funding has been allocated for these areas. This project is worth between €80 million and €90 million. The Blackrock south one is included with the Ardee project, and there is substantial funding from the Government and the Department. It is an important project that we must ensure gets over the line. I am interested to hear the Minister of State's views on the timelines.
I welcome the opportunity to provide an update to the House on the progress being made on the Dundalk, Blackrock south and Ardee flood relief scheme. As the Senator knows, I visited County Louth to learn more about the flooding in the county and the plans the Office of Public Works has to manage the risk. I am aware of the impact of flooding on homeowners, businesses and communities in the area.
Through the catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, flood programme, a detailed engineering analysis assessment and extensive public consultation were undertaken for over 300 communities throughout the country, including 90 coastal areas which include the eastern part of County Louth. One key output of the CFRAM programme was the flood risk management plans that contain proposed flood relief measures informed by costs, benefits and environmental factors to address the flood risk in each at-risk community nationwide. The evidence provided by the CFRAM programme was launched in 2018 and supports the Government's €1.3 billion investment programme. It is delivered through the national development plan. A total of 118 flood relief projects were identified to protect the main flood risk areas throughout the country. These include the proposed schemes for County Louth, which are Dundalk, Blackrock south, Drogheda, Carlingford, Greenore, Baltray and Ardee. Louth County Council, working with the Office of Public Works, has agreed to be the lead authority in the delivery of these schemes. The council chairs each project steering group, which includes the Office of Public Works and local authority representatives.
The Dundalk, Blackrock south and Ardee projects that are being progressed simultaneously were chosen by the council as the first projects to be advanced in County Louth. The CFRAM proposed flood relief scheme for Dundalk-Blackrock south would consist of the construction of a series of hard defences, including embankments and walls, rock armour coastal protection, demountable barriers, raising the road, a sluice gate and tanking of two properties. The proposed measure for Ardee consists of flood embankments and walls at an average height of 0.8 m and a total length of approximately 600 m. Both schemes will provide the protection required by the insurance industry and will be adaptable for future climate change scenarios.
The development of the flood relief schemes involve five distinct sequential and related stages. The stages involve assessing the flood risk and identifying options, planning, detailed design, construction and maintenance. Where it is possible, the project management of scheme delivery involves running some of the stages in parallel to expedite delivery, such as detailed design when planning permission is being sought. The cost for the Dundalk and Ardee schemes is approximately €80.9 million. The tender for the engineering consultancy services for the project was awarded to Binnies, formerly Black and Veatch, and Nicholas O'Dwyer as a joint venture in 2020. The proposed flood relief schemes for these areas will protect 1,880 properties when completed, 1,705 residential and 175 commercial. These are enormous schemes.
Currently, the Dundalk-Blackrock south and Ardee schemes project is at stage 1. This includes the collation of hydrology and hydraulics, the development of an options report for the preferred and viable scheme, and the preparation of associated environmental considerations as set out in the environmental impact assessment report.The steering group for the project meets monthly and the scheme development is ongoing, with work progressing on surveys on hydrology and hydraulics report schemes options and environmental assessments. The detailed programme for the scheme schedules that stage 1 will be completed in quarter 1 of 2023. The following stage will be to complete the necessary planning for the preferred scheme through the planning and development Acts. The programme for the scheme estimates that, subject to there being no challenges or delays, which is important, the post-planning stage and construction of the works will commence in 2024 and take three years to complete.
I thank the Minister of State. It is important to get that update on where we are with the project. I appreciate him coming to the House to provide it. An important point in his remarks is that this is a medium- to long-term project, providing that it is not subject to delays or challenges. It is important that we all put that on the record of the House. This is a development that needs to happen to protect more than 1,800 homes from flooding. If there were to be any delays or challenges to the scheme, that would significantly impact our ability to deliver it on time.
It is important to point out that as part of the scheme, Louth County Council intends to integrate in a comprehensive and planned manner to consider the construction of a greenway that will form part of the proposed greenway link from Belfast to Dublin that is often referred to as the great eastern greenway. It will enable walkers and cyclists to travel off-road between Belfast and Dublin. As Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, I have been keen to progress the usage of embankments for purposes other than flood relief. They are now very much being incorporated into local amenities.
I take this opportunity to reiterate that all of this is predicated on the project moving through the planning process without interruption. I say that in the context of good news today from Cork city, where we have finally jumped a huge hurdle in the context of Morrison's Island. I wish Louth County Council, which is the lead agency, the very best of luck in the delivery of this project without interruption. Let us hope there will not be unnecessary interruption, particularly at planning stag. The people of Dundalk, Blackrock south, Ardee, Drogheda, Greenore, Baltray and many other places in County Louth are waiting for flood relief that is very important in that part of the country because sea levels are rising. This is a big threat. As I have stated previously in the House, the greatest threat to this country in the short and medium term is not from any kind of invading force; it is actually from the sea. We need to take that seriously. Unfortunately, there are people in the political sphere who do not wish to take it seriously and think we can just row our boat along and everything will be fine, and we will all go up to the High Court for judicial reviews and challenges and everything like that. In the meantime, the flood waters continue to rise and people's houses, businesses and lives continue to be destroyed. They cannot get insurance. It is a hamster wheel, with the same thing happening repeatedly. I keep coming in here with the same reports and answers. These people deserve better and the Oireachtas needs to do more for them than we are doing.