OPW confident court ruling will not affect Cork flood defence project

The Office of Public Works (OPW) says it’s confident its €140m Cork flood defence project — the largest in the history of the state — will not be affected by a European Court ruling that has stalled delivery of the first phase.

In a statement, the agency said it is aware of the European Court of Justice ruling, which has forced Cork City Council to abandon the Part 8 planning process for its €6m Morrison’s Island upgrades, which was to include flood defences, “but it is not currently envisaged that any flood relief schemes being progressed by the OPW will be impacted as flood relief schemes are screened for Appropriate Assessment (AA) with a Natura Impact Statement (NIS) being completed if required,” it said.

“In addition, all flood relief schemes undertaken by the OPW under the Arterial Drainage Acts have an Environmental Impact Assessment report completed as a matter of course. These requirements are in place for the Lower Lee Flood Relief Scheme.”

It emerged on Tuesday that Cork City Council’s controversial Morrison’s Island project, which has been designed to integrate flood defences into a public-realm upgrade, will be delayed by at least six months following the European Court ruling on the potential impact of such works on protected habitats. 

The council must now prepare a new environmental screening of the scheme and embark on a completely new planning process through An Bórd Pleanála. It could be six months before a decision is made.

News of the delay emerged during judicial review proceedings brought by the Save Cork City campaign group against the council’s Part 8 planning decision for the scheme.

While the council insists the Part 8 was in full compliance with planning laws when it was signed off in April, it said the court ruling a month later in an Irish wind-farm case, linked to technical environmental reports on the impact of works on protected habitats, could not have been foreseen.

The council said its AA analysis and screening for the Morrison’s Island project in March indicated a “minimal risk” of harmful effects on sensitive habitats several kilometres downstream in the lower harbour and, as a result, a NIS was not considered necessary.

However, the European Court’s declaratory judgement said if there is even a potential impact on protected habitats, no matter how small or insignificant, then an NIS must be carried out.

The council said that while the required data was compiled for various other reports as part of the Part 8 planning process, it will take time to prepare it in NIS form.

A spokesman insisted there are no plans to change the design of the scheme, which attracted some 1,500 submissions during public consultation earlier this year.

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