An Bórd Pleanála is set to make a key decision within days which will determine the timeline for delivery of Cork’s first flood defences.
The decision on whether or not the €6m Morrison’s Island public realm upgrade, which features inbuilt flood defences as part of the OPW's €140m Lower Lee flood relief scheme (LLFRS), will face an oral hearing will push a planning decision on the project well back into the new year.
The quays in and around Morrison’s Island were flooded by up to a foot of water over three high tides on Tuesday and Wednesday, forcing the closure of several streets and the removal of parking in some areas.
Engineers said if the winds had been as strong as forecast, Oliver Plunkett St and St Patrick’s St would have experienced flooding.
The Morrison’s Island’s project has been designed to remove an estimated 80% of the flood threat to the city centre.
It includes flood protection measures along a 550m stretch from Parliament Bridge, past Trinity Bridge, down to Parnell Bridge, including a raising of road levels by 600mm, a raising of quay walls by between 300-600mm, and topping them with 1.2 metres of steel cabling to maintain views of the river, with a 3m-wide promenade being built along the riverside.
Plaza areas will be created at either side of Trinity footbridge, and at the Parnell Bridge end of the quay, and the number of car-parking spaces on Morrison’s Quay and Fr Mathew Quay will be reduced from 148 to 33 – a loss of 115 parking spaces.
Given its potential to remove such a significant flood risk from such a large area, it was decided that Cork City Council would advance it separately and faster as a stand-alone scheme under the Part 8 planning process.
Councillors voted in May 2018 to give it planning but following a legal challenge mounted by Save Cork City, the main opponents of the LLFRS, the council was forced to submit a new planning application to An Bórd Pleanála.
The Bórd requested further information last May and the council responded in June with substantial additional information, which resulted in the need for a new public notice inviting submissions from the public by October 18.
While the Bórd’s target date for a planning decision on the Morrison’s Island scheme is the end of December, it must first decide whether or not an oral hearing is required.
That decision, due within days and which is expected to confirm an oral hearing, will push the planning decision back several months.
Independent Cllr Mick Finn said following this week’s flooding, it was interesting to hear a city businessman who was against the Morrison’s Island plan because of the loss of car parking spaces calling now for flood mitigation measures.
“This flood defence and public realm project - including renewal of historic quaysides - is required urgently,” he said. “If a tidal barrier process were to start tomorrow, we’d have to wait another decade with all the funding, planning and environmental issues.
“A barrier will ultimately be required but we cannot let the city centre drown in the meantime. Common sense required here for the lowest-lying part of the city - it’s time to get on with the Morrison's Island scheme.”