Cork City has asked for expert advice on flood protection and insurance issues in a bid to unlock the multi-billion euro development potential of one of Ireland’s largest brownfield sites which is below high-tide level.
The report, which is being sought by Cork City Council, could lead to a major u-turn on an almost decade-long planning policy in relation to the city’s sprawling south docks region.
It could also reduce by several hundred million euro the estimated cost of key infrastructure which will be required to kickstart a key part of the city’s ambitious €1bn docklands vision.
The vast south docks area runs from west of the city centre, downstream on the southern banks of the river Lee to Pairc Uí Chaoimh, and is a crucial element of the city’s overall 220-hectare docklands region.
About the same size as the existing city centre, the south docklands has been earmarked for 10,000 residential units and some one million sq metres of commercial space.
If fully developed, it would effectively double the size of the city centre.
But it is a polder — an area of land located below high-tide level — and it is at risk of tidal flooding.
City Hall has now published a tender seeking the appointment of consultants to advise it on whether the region can be developed as a polder and be insurable by the insurance industry.
The experts have also been asked to consider the issues required to satisfy the insurance industry of the viability of defending a polder from floods by using perimeter protection along the river bank.
While the city is exposed to tidal flooding during extreme surge tides, the south docks has only been flooded a handful of times after the river overtopped the quays at the western end of the city.
It has caused little or no damage to property but road surface flooding, caused mainly by poor storm drainage systems, has led to restricted access to the Centre Park and Monahan roads.
A decade ago, when planning blueprints were being drafted for the south docks area, it was decided to maintain the area as a polder and protect it from tidal flooding by providing perimeter protection along the riverbank, by raising ground levels locally, and by providing temporary demountable flood barriers on access points when required.
However, the OPW advised that this approach wasn’t good enough.
This led to the adoption of a policy in the 2008 South Docks Local Area Plan (LAP) which required the raising of all ground levels as well as perimeter protection along the riverside.
“The consequence of this policy is that it impacts both on the infrastructural costs and on delivering phased developments due to significantly different ground levels. Cork City Council is now proposing to revert to the original polder proposal,” a council spokesman said.
“Such an approach would make proposed development more cost effective and deliverable by retaining lower ground and/or floor levels over a substantial area of the docklands.
“However, a key issue relates to the residual risk and therefore the insurability of such developments by the insurance industry for both Cork City Council in the public realm and private developers in terms of property development.”
The city has now advertised for experts to examine the various issues and their study will feed into a new South Docks LAP which is due to be published in 2018.
It has been estimated that the area requires investment of up to €1.3bn to kickstart development — up to €1bn for a rapid transit system, and further €351m for infrastructure development such as new roads and bridges.
Meanwhile, work is advancing on the city’s €140m flood defence scheme, which extends along the river Lee from Ballincollig to the city centre.
The OPW and Cork City Council confirmed this week that they plan to seek planning permission for the first phase of this scheme — the €6m Morrison’s Island public realm project — before the end of this month.
The Part 8 planning process will provide for a period of public consultation.
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