Flood defence plans: Helping Cork to reach its full potential

Flood defence plans: Helping Cork to reach its full potential
A computer-generated image of the latest Lower Lee flood relief scheme proposals for an area of Fitzgerald’s Park, showing a new boardwalk and how flood defences have been incorporated into the landscaping.

For Cork to grow, and to help avoid the devastation like we saw in 2009, the city should come together to back the proposed relief scheme, writes Ann Doherty

This week, 10 years ago, Cork faced scenes of utter devastation.

The River Lee had burst through the quay walls leaving up to €130m worth of damage in its wake.

Hundreds of residents had been forced to flee their homes, city centre business owners were mopping up to three feet of water from their premises, 60,000 people were without drinking water, a city centre hospital was partially evacuated and UCC and County Hall shut for a week. A civic emergency was declared.

It is incumbent upon me as chief executive to set out the unrelenting efforts and strategic interventions being undertaken by Cork City Council to protect Cork City from such catastrophic events in the future.

Cork is in the midst of a period of unprecedented economic development, with up to 10,000 new jobs due to come on stream in the city centre alone. Construction of nearly €1bn in office development is also underway; a 30% increase in hotel bedrooms, and over 1,000 additional student bed spaces. Planning permission is also in place for over 4,600 housing units. Cranes dominate our skyline.

This rapid growth has not gone unnoticed internationally. The Financial Times’ FDI Magazine named Cork as the most business friendly small city in Europe last year. Cork was also included in the top 20 European Cities and Regions of the Future.

And, there is more to come. A pipeline of ambitious and exciting development is being planned. However here is where I need to sound a note of caution, conditions need to be certain if we are to maintain the momentum coming from the private sector.

Business requires certainty and the necessary infrastructure must be put in place to support investment.

To ensure Cork realises its potential, we must exercise leadership and decision-making based on evidence based-data — as demonstrated by decisions made by our city councillors, who are elected by our citizens to take difficult decisions for the future of our city.

Our vision is focussed on creating a city that people actively want to work and live in, that companies want to invest and grow in and where students want to learn and conduct world class research.

In line with this thinking, it is critical for me today to focus on the OPW’s Lower Lee Flood Relief Scheme (LLRFS) as a key enabling piece of infrastructure and a sustainable, fit for purpose, multifaceted solution to safeguarding Cork City from future flooding threats.

Testament to the robustness of the scheme is the funding commitment towards the project made by national government.

Cork City Council elected members, after the events of 2009, fought hard over many years to secure the €140m required to protect our city.

The scene in 2009 after flooding on Carrigrohane Road and the Lee Fields area in Cork following the heavy rainfall. Picture: Denis Minihane
The scene in 2009 after flooding on Carrigrohane Road and the Lee Fields area in Cork following the heavy rainfall. Picture: Denis Minihane

The Government’s funding pledge also speaks to our strategic designation as Ireland’s fastest growing city within Project Ireland 2040. We need to need to deliver on the trust that is behind this designation if we are remain the powerhouse we have become, in particular on the investment front.

It is now incumbent on us all to come together to fully realise our opportunities and deliver the Lower Lee Flood Relief Scheme. This scheme has been developed over 10 years of cautious consideration and led by foremost experts in flooding.

The OPW and Cork City Council project proposes the sensitive restoration of the quay walls and a necessary, workable and integrated approach to a problem that simply must be tackled as we enter a critical stage in our city’s development. The scheme represents best world-wide practice — Cork deserves no less.

The Lower Lee Flood Relief Scheme is holistic, evidence-based and rational. Beyond the flood relief benefits, the scheme will provide direct investment of €140m allowing a range of public realm improvements to be delivered, with some of this rejuvenation in areas which are in dire need of regeneration. This will deliver economic, social, heritage, and environmental benefits.

It is worth restating that the OPW and Cork City Council have employed scientific, evidence-based data as a cornerstone of this project. Our response to climate change is not based on emotion, instinct or anecdote but rather on empirical data and the very best available science.

We are entering an exciting stage in our city’s development. Yet, some groups and individuals who persist in misrepresenting the scheme have now escalated their campaign to oppose key infrastructural projects that are not even part of the Flood Relief Scheme.

Last month, we saw legal action initiated against the planned Cork Docklands to City Centre Road Network Scheme which is a key public realm and roads project to unlock Cork docklands — potentially the largest docklands regeneration area in Europe with the capacity to deliver over 10,000 homes and c 29,000 jobs.

Cork City Council’s elected members voted to give Part 8 approval to the scheme, voting 24 votes to five. Notwithstanding that democratic vote, taken at a public meeting of council, a judicial review of the Part 8 has been sought.

This threatens the future development of our city, undermines local democracy and jeopardises funding commitments made to this city by central government.

Individuals and groups are entitled to take this action that but be under no illusion, such decisions are not without impact. It has the potential to delay the development of Cork docklands, slow down inward investment, and inhibit employment creation for us and future generations.

The Docklands to City Centre Road Network Scheme has been designed by Cork City Council to provide a gateway to the docklands and to provide significantly improved facilities for bus passengers, cyclists and pedestrians as well as introducing new amenities to the area, improving public realm, and creating new open spaces.

It is a high quality, environmentally friendly, and sustainable project, yet is being opposed.

It is to be hoped that we are not getting to a point when all infrastructural work could be challenged, delayed or prevented from progressing unless it meets the criteria of groupings with no democratic mandate or statutory responsibility — regardless of the informed decisions Government, State agencies and the elected Cork City Council may make. In short, the city is faced with a real threat to its future prosperity.

Cork, as a city, needs to come together, to deliver the LLFRS and thereby to ensure that the flooding event of 10 years ago can never again be repeated.

We also need to ensure that this generation and future generations see the results of this government’s ambition for the city under Ireland 2040 and that Cork remains a number one location for private and public sector investment.

Ann Doherty is chief executive of Cork City Council

Design team hits back at ‘walls scheme’ criticism

By Eoin English

New images reflect public’s impact on flood project

Left: The North Mall in Cork City as it is today. Right: A computer-generated image of the latest Lower Lee flood relief scheme proposals for the North Mall, showing how the quayside will look when the demountable flood barriers are deployed during flood alerts only.
Left: The North Mall in Cork City as it is today. Right: A computer-generated image of the latest Lower Lee flood relief scheme proposals for the North Mall, showing how the quayside will look when the demountable flood barriers are deployed during flood alerts only.

The team behind the contentious €140m Cork flood defence scheme has released new design images which it says further prove the project is not a “walls scheme” as its critics have repeatedly claimed.

The new computer-generated images from the Lower Lee Flood Relief Scheme (LLFRS) team show how demountable barriers will be used along the historic North Mall when a severe flood is forecast.

The proposed intervention along this quay follows the detailed consideration of feedback received by the design team during extensive public consultation.

The images show how the quay’s historic railings will be retained and enhanced, with the footpath in line for a significant upgrade to include special flush anchor points for the removable barriers.

The approach to flood defences on this quay mirrors the approach unveiled in September for Sullivan’s Quay, where railings will also be retained.

However, there is still concern about the removal of a bike lane along this quay, and its replacement with a shared surface.

A spokesperson for the LLFRS said demountable barriers are only deployed when a severe flood is forecast, that they are only in place for a short period of time, and that based on 2018 data on river flows and water levels on the river Lee, they would not have been deployed for use at all last year.

The new images also show proposals for a new boardwalk in Fitzgerald’s Park, along a section of the southern bank of the Lee’s northern channel to the rear of the public museum, along with a new plaza to open up new views of the river.

The images follow on from the release of design images in September which show how the LLFRS has evolved arising out of public consultation, with plans for a plaza close to Daly’s Bridge, and a new park at the Lee Fields, with a raised bund, new cycling lanes, and upgrades to its slipway to improve access to the river.

“The community of Cork has engaged with the LLFRS through numerous public consultation phases over the last 13 years,” said a spokesperson. “This has made it possible to take on board, to the greatest extent possible, the views of the public throughout the ongoing evolution of the scheme’s design.

Some of the most misleading commentary about the scheme revolves around the use of the description ‘walls scheme’.

“At various stages, it has been claimed that LLFRS involves 15kms of walls running from Ballincollig to the city centre, blocking the river from view, and inhibiting its use.

“None of this is true as can be seen from the images published by the scheme. In fact, LLFRS will see previously blocked access points to the river being opened and new ones being created to allow better and easier access to the river.”

The scheme, which has been in the pipeline for more than a decade, features a blend of measures extending some 15km from west of Ballincollig to the eastern edge of the city, including revised dam operating procedures, improved flood forecasting, restoration of quay walls, and the construction of direct defences in certain places, designed to protect 900 homes and 1,200 businesses against tidal and river flooding.

It comes ahead of a talk tomorrow by J Philip O’Kane — emeritus professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UCC, who has worked with the UN on flood defences around the world —on alternatives to the LLFRS.

Mr O’Kane, who has argued for a move away from the OPW’s decision to raise quay walls in certain places to protect Cork City from flooding, has called for the ESB’s dams to be used to control fluvial or river flooding, and for a tidal barrier to be built in the lower harbour to control tidal flooding.

He will deliver his talk in UCC’s Civil Engineering Building at noon tomorrow.

However, Cork Chamber and Cork Business Association united last week to welcome the revised LLFRS plans and to call for delivery of the scheme as a “matter of urgency”.

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