Warning on flooding rings alarm bells

It’s just over a week since two important blueprints — the national development plan (NDP) and the national planning framework — were published.

How those proposals are delivered will shape economic and social evolution over two decades.

Housing minister Eoghan Murphy arrives at National Development Plan.

Whether any development flowing from those plans will be unveiled in 2038 remains to be seen but, even at this early stage, it seems important to look even further into the future and prepare for a world very different and far more challenging than the one we enjoy today.

Last week’s NDP was the fifth in a series co-ordinating public investment. That discipline was introduced in 1989 when the EU sought a more organised approach as it was a primary source of funding. Investment planning on a medium-term or longer basis became the norm.

Funding was predicated on evidence of where investment might maximise economic, social and environmental progress. The stipulation for evidence-based decisions was pivotal, maybe even more so than the funding as up to then emotion — or political ambitions — was often as influential as evidence in investment decisions.

That kind of oversight faded from the turn of the century when EU funding became less relevant. The crash of 2007 finished off any remnants of the planning discipline inculcated by our European colleagues.

Maybe it’s time to take that kind of long-game perspective more seriously again. It is always difficult to secure public investment for projects measured in lifetimes rather than election cycles but a new report on how climate will impact suggests we must quickly and enthusiastically embrace the idea of preparing for the Ireland of 2050 and onwards.

After all, the young adults sitting the Leaving Cert this year will be just middle-aged halfway through this century.

That obligation is sharpened by a Europe-wide study that has warned about intensifying heatwaves, droughts, and flooding.

A Newcastle University study concluded that Cork, Dublin, Waterford, and Derry are among European cities that will be worst hit by flooding.

These warnings are hardly surprising but they do suggest that current proposals around flood management in Cork City are wishful thinking and that a response of an entirely different scale becomes more urgent by the day.

Reports like this move the goal posts in a profound way. For example, the new hospital proposed for Cork cannot be built within reach of floods.

It seems unrealistic too to suggest that plans for rejuvenation of the city centre — the long-awaited events centre say — can pretend not to hear these warnings.

Extended power cuts after Storm Ophelia are another example and suggest that it should be mandatory to bury all new power lines and that a programme to bury all existing power lines should begin. This kind of future proofing will come at a huge cost but doing nothing will cost more.

It is a tragedy on a grand scale that these cities were built on rivers that gave them an enriching window to the world but now these rivers represent a threat because of destructive human impact on climate.

This warning, and more like it, predict a more hostile world. It seems an act of insanity, and one that betrays our children, not to act on them quickly.


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