Cork flood defence plans: ‘People were given few options — it’s walls, walls, or walls’

We do not want to build more walls, says the Save Cork City campaign group, which argues that reducing the level of flooding should be the first priority, writes Eoin English.

Cork flood defence plans: ‘People were given few options — it’s walls, walls, or walls’

CAMPAIGNERS opposed to Cork’s massive flood defence scheme have urged people to lobby politicians to prevent what they described as a “brutal assault on the city” after their calls for an international review of the scheme were dismissed.

The Save Cork City group said they are not giving up after the OPW insisted that building direct defences is the only viable option.

“The people of Cork were given few options by the OPW. It’s walls, walls, or walls,” the campaign said after Friday night’s public forum.

“The OPW’s proposals are outdated. Their methods are institutional and arrogant. Do not be bullied with misinformation. Our economic future is at grave risk, our city is at grave risk.

“Tell your councillor that you want the city to stop promoting this brutal assault and find another way.”

The group ramped up its campaign in the wake of Friday’s public forum with a Love The Lee event across the weekend celebrating all aspects of the river.

It included workshops on how to make a submission to the OPW on the Cork flood defence scheme before its April 7 deadline. Each submission will have to be considered and responded to before the scheme can proceed.

Following criticism from business leaders about its 11th-hour intervention in the process, the campaign group said it was partly because of “poor public awareness raising” by the OPW.

Spokesperson Polly Magee, one of four Save Cork City speakers on Friday, said they are trying to secure the best possible flood defence scheme that will provide a long-term sustainable solution to Cork’s flooding problem.

“We do not want to build more walls,” she said.

“The OPW has failed to provide a solution that meets the needs of the city. We have concerns about the design, lack of public engagement, the number of reports completed or commissioned by the OPW that have not made their way into the public domain, and the method by which flood schemes are conceived and approved.”

She said the OPW has presented only one solution which is based around ugly concrete walls and pump chambers in a historical centre to protect largely against tidal flood events.

“Building walls and heavy infrastructure in an urban environment as a flood defence mechanism has to be the absolute last resort when it comes to protecting against flooding,” said Ms Magee, an architect.

“There are numerous publications, for example the World Bank Cities and Flooding Guidebook, that outline best practices and they all conclude that reducing the level of flooding should be the first priority.

“The OPW has not taken this approach, otherwise it would have proposed a completely different solution.

“The OPW has referred to an options study they have completed, however, this has not been shared with the public.”

Civil engineer Michael Ryan told the forum that delivering the current design will turn Cork City into a building site for up to 10 years, with heavy civil engineering works creating the same level of disruption experienced during the main drainage project.

Heritage expert John Hegarty described some of the defences as a “sea of concrete” which wouldn’t look out of place in North Korea.

Architect Seán Antóin Ó Muirí said the River Lee is Cork’s greatest asset and that building walls as proposed will destroy it.

Ms Magee also expressed concern about the removal, demolition, and interference with unique and irreplaceable historical assets such as the quay walls and historic Cork-manufactured railings.

“The OPW have failed to protect Cork’s built heritage and pursued their ‘solution’ single mindedly, without engaging with experts both in the public and private sector,” she said.

“The OPW has their own heritage section, which performs exceptional work protecting buildings and monuments and the OPW flood risk management section has not engaged with them in a meaningful manner.

“The ‘solution’ will cause severe and far-reaching loss of economic potential to the city with the loss of heritage value. The solution presented by the OPW will devastate Cork’s unique character.”

The Save Cork City campaign has also pointed to what it described as several failings in the proposed scheme, which does not allow for climate change.

“The OPW has designed the flood walls so that they can be increased in height by an additional 1m,” said the campaign.

“The OPW has suggested that this will be achieved by either constructing a new reinforced concrete section or installing a demountable barrier.

“The solution does not include measures or allow for the cost to protect the north and south docks, which is the site for the development that creates a ‘vision for a new urban quarter in Cork that would revitalise the city through high quality, contemporary design and a vibrant mix of uses’.”

The campaign has also accused the OPW of demonstrating indifference, and of ignoring submissions from an emeritus professor with a detailed knowledge of the Lee, its catchment, and flooding, and it has also raised concerns about the level of public consultation as required under the Arterial Drainage Act.

“They carried out a total of three consultations over a period of almost four years. The consultations were all scheduled for either summer period [during July] or as per the latest consultation ‘statutory exhibition of scheme’ over Christmas,” said Ms Magee. “The public are uninformed as to the extent of the proposed works and the impact it will have on Cork City. The use of the 1945 Arterial Drainage Act denies citizens effective say in the process.

“Notices were issued to property owners where the proposed solution resulted in works being carried out on their property. The OPW does not engage with nor consider the impact the solution has on other residents of Cork.

“You may live on the quays and have works constructed on your doorstep, however, the OPW does not consider that you are materially impacted by the works.

“The majority of residents contacted by Save Cork City are unaware of the proposed scheme.

“The OPW are proposing to change Cork City with a very limited consultation process and without input from citizens, experts, and other concerned parties.”

The group also raised concerns about the OPW’s ability to mitigate flood risk in an urban environment — a responsibility it has had since 1995. “We demand a solution that manages the flooding upstream and downstream and greatly reduces or eliminates the need to construct heavy civil engineering works that will damage the cultural heritage assets that are the quays and waterways of Cork City,” said Ms Magee.

Despite engineering experts ruling out a tidal barrage and ‘farming the flood’ alternatives, she said its alternative solutions should still be pursued, to include:

  • A programme of maintenance and conservation of the existing city quays;
  • Grants for homes and businesses to implement flood resilience measures;
  • Upstream catchment management that reduces flow reaching the city, and a tidal barrier to manage tidal flood events.

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