Challenge to Cork City flood defence wall plan begins in High Court

Challenge to Cork City flood defence wall plan begins in High Court
Flooding on Morrison's Island

By Ann O'Loughlin

A group including architects, business owners, artists and archaeologists has taken a legal challenge over plans for construction of 553 metres of flood defence walls in the Morrison’s Island area of Cork city.

The proceedings are by Save Cork City group and one of its leading members, architect Seán Antóin Ó Muirí.

At the High Court today, Mr Justice Seamus Noonan granted an ex parte application by Jerry Healy SC, for the applicants, for leave for judicial review aimed at quashing Cork City Council’s May 2018 decision approving the works at Morrison’s Island.

The judge was satisfied the group had established the necessary substantial grounds for judicial review, made directions for service of the proceedings on the Council; the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government; and the State. The case will come back before the court in October.

In their proceedings, the applicants contend there was a “splitting off” of 553 metres of the Morrison’s Island works from the overall €160m Office of Public Works flood defences scheme for Cork, the Lower Lee Flood Relief Scheme (LLFRS).

The splitting has consequences for the obligations to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Appropriate Assessment of the proposed works at Morrison's Island, the court was told.

The case arises from proposals of the Office of Public Works to construct the LLFRS but its focus concerns the propsed works on Morrison's Island.

The applicants claim, despite Morrison's Island having formed part of the LLFRS at all times between 2013 and 2016, the Council resolved to proceed on a different basis to the OPW, with a proposal which embraced the Morrison's Island element of the work and to progress that aspect of the project via flood relief and other public amenity works.

It is claimed that involved a new proposal comprising a portion split of the LLFRS proposal combined with new public realm works.

Artists impression of part of OPW flood defence wall in Morrison's Island
Artists impression of part of OPW flood defence wall in Morrison's Island

The applicants claim this proposal, under Part 8 of the Planning and Develoment Regulations, was approved by the Coucil via a resolution of May 14th 2018.

They contend that approval was apparently without any consideration of the environmental impacts of the proposed development and without making the relevant determination in respect of EIA and appropriate assessment.

A screening for appropriate assessment report of December 2016 carried out on behalf of the OPW concerned the entire LLFRS so that report's subject matter was therefore "fundamentally different" in scale and substance from the proposed flood defences at Morrison's Island, it is claimed.

Mr Healy argued there were “fatal” flaws in the screening process and there were breaches of both the EIA and Habitats Directive. There was no basis upon which the Council could have concluded no significant effects were likely from the proposed development, it is claimed.

It is also claimed that local authority development under Section 179 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 and Part 8 of the Planning and Development Regulations breaches the requirement of the EIA Directive that the relevant authorities perform their duties under the Directive in an objective matter and avoid conflict of interest situations.

Because the Council is both the competent authority and proposed developer of the works, there is a conflict of interest, it is claimed.

The applicants also complain a report from the Council's Director of Services to the elected members had alleged Save Cork City had offered a biased narrative about the proposed works and sought to "sideline" the fact that 68 per cent of some 1,400 public submissions concerning the development were received via the group.

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