22 June 2021
By Tom Collins
Minister O’Donovan visits Blackpool and Ballincollig Weir, Cork
Patrick O’Donovan, T.D., Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works (OPW), today visited Blackpool, Cork, where he met with OPW engineers and some members of the local community at the site of the proposed Flood Relief Scheme on the River Bride.
Speaking after his visit, Minister O’Donovan said: “Since my appointment as Minister for the Office Public Works and Flood Relief, my priority has been to be an advocate for the victims of flooding. I am really worried about the City of Cork. This is a city that is ripe for investment, and as we come to the end of Covid, there are a lot of opportunities and potential for this city. But this city has one huge problem hanging over it, which is that it is at a major risk of flooding. My responsibility is to be upfront with the people of Cork regarding the major risk of flooding in the city and I am not going to skirt around this. Our ambition is to provide relief to people who are victims of flooding.”
The Blackpool Flood Relief Scheme Project commenced in 2013 – a year after serious flooding had occurred in the village, affecting around 200 properties – when the OPW, together with Cork City Council, appointed a multi-disciplinary project team to develop proposals to manage the flood risk that existed in Cork City. The scheme proposed in 2018 was judged to best meet the full range of criteria and objectives for Blackpool and to protect areas of Blackpool at-risk, including all of the areas that had experienced flooding in 2012.
It is the result of a five-year-long, rigorous process that included extensive engineering and environmental analysis; public consultation; consultation with key environmental and heritage stakeholders such as Inland Fisheries Ireland, National Monuments and the National Parks and Wildlife Service as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment; and a formal Public Exhibition. The project team engaged extensively with all parties during the course of the development of the scheme, in particular the local community, ensuring that the needs of the community fully informed the evolution of the design of the project. Various alternative solutions were explored, for example, the use of walls rather than a box culvert for the existing channel along Orchard Court. However, this was opposed by the Blackpool Flood Action Committee, many local residents and some public representatives on several grounds.
The scheme design has incorporated many significant environmental mitigation and enhancement measures to address environmental concerns. Its environmental impacts were examined in detail in the preparation of an Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIAR) and a Natura Impact Statement (NIS) under the Habitats Directive. Subsequently, the proposed scheme was subjected to an independent Environmental Impact Assessment by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform before it was confirmed by him in March 2021.
An OPW statement today said “It is regrettable that the Ministerial consent for the Blackpool Flood Relief Scheme is now the subject of a legal challenge“. The OPW remains satisfied that the confirmed scheme proposal has been the result of a rigorous selection process to ensure that the solution brought forward represents the optimum solution for Blackpool, having fairly weighed up the relative merits of all of the various constraints, opinions and viewpoints.
The greatest impact of this legal challenge will be felt by homeowners and businesses in the community at risk of flooding. This challenge can only result in delay to the implementation of a badly-needed solution to flooding that has impacted their lives over the years. Even if unsuccessful, this challenge could potentially result in delays of up to one year in the progression of the scheme. Nearly 300 properties and businesses stand to benefit from the proposed scheme, including many traders whose livelihoods are at stake, especially as many cannot get insurance today due to previous flooding in this community.
Following his visit to Blackpool village, Minister O’Donovan visited nearby Ballincollig to see first-hand the site of the collapsed weir on the River Lee adjacent to Ballincollig Regional Park. He was met there by the newly elected Lord Mayor for Cork City, Colm Kelleher. There have been calls for OPW to assist, possibly as part of the Lower Lee Flood Relief Scheme. While there are no hydraulic benefits to the scheme from the weir, the OPW has agreed to assess the feasibility of including any proposed works on the weir into the construction contract for the Lower Lee Flood Relief Scheme. The nature of any such works will be subject to an assessment of planning, structural, fisheries’ and cultural heritage considerations, which the Lower Lee Steering Group has asked the consultants for the OPW to review.
TheCork.ie Editors Note
The above is the OPW side of the story. See also the Save our Bride Otters views at https://www.facebook.com/riverbrideblackpool/