The news emerged yesterday as the OPW and campaigners opposed to its Lower Lee Flood Relief scheme appeared before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Culture, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht.
Save Cork City’s John Hegarty and Catherine Kirwan outlined again the group’s opposition to the scheme’s reliance on raised walls, highlighting the potential impact on the city’s heritage, architecture, and economy.
They called for greater consideration of their alternative plan, which includes a tidal barrier in Cork Harbour, and said businesses fear a “decade of disruption from Luas-style construction works” if the OPW persists with the scheme as proposed.
They briefed the committee on the findings of the independent report commissioned by Save Cork City from HR Wallingford, experts in tidal barriers and climate change, which found that the group’s tidal barrier proposal could be built at Little Island for €140m.
“We want the right flood protection solution for Cork and the River Lee,” said Mr Hegarty.
“We want a solution that is climate change resilient, unlike the outdated walls scheme. We want a solution that protects our valuable heritage.
“A tidal barrier is the safest, most predictable, and most economical solution for Cork.
“It represents the best value for the taxpayer.
“Our proposals are supported by academics and flood relief experts, flood defence agencies, environmentalists, and thousands of Cork citizens.
“Support for a tidal barrier is increasing in Cork and a forced walls solution would not represent fair play or fair local democracy and would not be tolerated in the city.”
John Sydenham, commissioner of the OPW, said the agency is fully satisfied that the proposed scheme’s planning, development, and design process has been rigorous and of the highest professional standard.
“We have considered all of the potential alternatives, and have determined that the only technically viable and cost beneficial solution is the scheme as exhibited,” he said.
“This integrated and holistic scheme will substantially free the people of Cork from the worry and stress of living with flood risk and it will remove barriers to future private investment and help to reinvigorate the city centre.”
Mr Sydenham revealed that, following feedback during the scheme’s public exhibition stage, the design of flood defences has been changed on quays which have original historic railings.
“At Sullivan’s Quay and North Mall, demountable barriers are proposed so that the existing railings can be retained in their current form, thus ensuring that there is no heritage impact,” he said.
Mr Sydenham also said the scheme has the support of Cork Chamber and the Cork Business Association, which represent over 2,000 businesses combined, and of the Irish National Flood Forum.
“The OPW and Cork City Council would be concerned about further delays to the project amid continued exposure of city residents and businesses to flood risk,” he said, adding that the Commissioners of Public Works intend to submit the scheme to the public expenditure minister for approval in the shortest possible timeframe.”
Mr Sydenham rejected opponents’ criticism of the proposed wall heights, insisting that the proposed defence height along the majority of the quays will be 2ft or less, with the highest quay wall height of 4ft above finished ground level.
“This cannot reasonably be described as high and will not limit views or enjoyment of the river,” he insisted.
“Over three-quarters of the quay walls will have an element of open railing below guarding height.
“Over 1km of new riverside walkways will be provided which will enhance connectivity with the river.
“Existing unattractive concrete upstands and railings will be replaced with new architecturally designed railings.”
Several committee members expressed surprise, however, that they were even hearing presentations from both sides given that the OPW has yet to respond to the over 1,200 submissions it received during public consultation.