Major design changes to Cork’s €140m flood defence scheme have been unveiled that will see demountable flood defences, rather than walls, used to protect the most historic city centre areas.
The changes to protect “heritage assets” on the North Mall and Sullivan’s Quay were among a raft of new design compromises which were outlined to councillors last night after the city’s head of environment, Valerie O’Sullivan, accused opponents of the original scheme of engaging in “fake news”.
Ms O’Sullivan said the Save Cork City group had made a series of inappropriate comparisons on several elements of the original scheme which had led to a range of distorted views on it.
She said she wanted councillors to hear from experts involved in the scheme, following “real engagement”, and not to rely on the “fake news” which had been circulated on social media.
Ken Leahy of Arup and Andrew Hayley of the Paul Hogarth Company spent more than two hours briefing councillors on the design changes over the last 18 months.
The original design advertised for public consultation almost two years ago led to a massive campaign of opposition, led by Save Cork City, over the reliance on raised quay walls.
Mr Hayley said that debate had “shone a spotlight on issues” and that the new designs are a “real shift in the right direction” which will help reclaim several parts of the city as civic spaces.
“We’re not there yet. This is an ongoing process,” he said. “But I hope that you will see how the concerns about walls, how it cuts people off from the river, we’ve moved on from that.
“We are looking at engaging with the river in a different way, of using the quayside and green parklands further west.
“It is an ongoing process. We are listening, we are trying desperately hard to get the best scheme for the city, for its people, and for those who want to visit and invest.”
Mr Hayley confirmed that demountable defences will be used along North Mall and Sullivan’s Quay and that railings and trees at both locations will be retained.
There are proposals to create a tree-lined cycling and walking boulevard along Carrigrohane Rd, to enhance access to the river via the Lee Fields slipway, and to use the regular flooding of the area to create wetlands and promote biodiversity.
There are plans to integrate flood defences into a new plaza alongside the Shakey Bridge, to create a new plaza at Grenville Place, and to future-proof all the designs to ensure connected walking and cycling routes from the Lee Fields can be provided in future.
Mr Hayley said some of the city centre quayside steps will be opened up for use again but some will be sealed off with a glazed screen.
Mr Leahy insisted a tidal barrier would cost €1bn and won’t be viable for 50 years, and that the city needs a flood defence solution now.
Independent councillor Kieran McCarthy, who branded the original flood defence scheme a PR disaster, welcomed the emerging design compromises.
Fianna Fáil councillor Tim Brosnan said: “I like what I see. It’s clear that you have listened.”
Solidarity councillor Fiona Ryan criticised Ms O’Sullivan for her “attack” on the Save Cork City.
“Save Cork City deserve a formal space and platform to respond to this,” she said.
The Morrison’s Island element of the flood defence scheme is being advanced under the Part 10 process through Bord Pleanála while the rest of the scheme is being advanced under the Arterial Drainage Acts.