Perhaps it should not be surprising that work on starting — or in this case, not starting — the largest and most expensive flood-defence system in the country’s history has been the target of so many objections, studies, plan revisions, delays, court actions, plan revisions, and even a European Court ruling on the risks to protected habitats.
The latest research by Professor Beese — a consulting geologist and an expert on the history of this city’s relationship with its river — into the Office of Public Works (OPW) €140m masterplan for keeping Cork safe from flooding tables has conclusions so damning as to ensure yet more delay.
Condemning it as an “experiment which is likely to fail”, he worries that parts of the scheme could actually increase flood risks, cause structural damage in the city centre, and adversely affect groundwater quality in the region, and suggests that the OPW and its consultants need to look again at the complexity, and likely risks, over the full width of the Lee flood plain.
“It is to be expected,” he warns, “that the residual risks associated with any implementation of the scheme would result in excessive costs and long-term disruption, especially given the urban context.”
Save Cork City is campaigning for a tidal barrier defence, arguing it would protect more of the city at a lower cost than the OPW’s scheme, which it disparages as the largest planned destruction of heritage in Ireland’s history.
Opponents of the group might be tempted to dismiss Prof Beese as a long-time critic of the OPW scheme which, back in 2017, he said were based largely on short-term financial considerations.
But the report he delivers this week is the latest in a series of studies since 2017 that have cast doubt on the OPW’s approach and financial calculations.
The first was by HR Wallingford, which said a tidal barrier could be built in the lower harbour for €140m.
A report by experts at Delft University in the Netherlands — where they know a thing or two about flood defences — concluded that the OPW had overestimated the building cost of a tidal barrier by €200m.
A third study, by quantity surveyors, reported that the bill for walls and embankments proposed by the OPW could be €76m higher than estimated.
That all of these doubts have been raised by specialists commissioned by the main objectors to the OPW scheme should not automatically invalidate them.
The risks to the city and the financial costs involved are far too great for petty point-scoring over what is a major capital project needed to protect the city for generations come.
Clearly, a flood defence plan — and action — is needed.
Flooding in the Lee Valley and the historic city centre has caused damage estimated at over €140m in recent years.
The time has come for an independent review of the whole project.
Leading such a call might have been one of the first actions of Cork’s directly elected mayor, had the city not rejected the proposal in last month’s referendum.
Regardless, a review must seek advice from specialists whose independence can be said without doubt to be guaranteed.
There must be many of them in the Netherlands.