Minister rejects claims that flood defence schemes are 'environmentally destructive'

€20m Blackpool flood relief scheme delayed by legal challenge
Minister rejects claims that flood defence schemes are 'environmentally destructive'

The OPW's planned work on the River Bride in Blackpool, Cork City, has been put on hold pending the outcome of a judicial review after a local group objected to the plans.

The flood defence minister has rejected claims that Office of Public Works schemes are over-engineered and environmentally destructive as the agency confirmed a €20m scheme in Cork city has been delayed by a legal challenge.

Minister of State at the OPW, Patrick O’Donovan, said that the agency is “not in the business of destroying anything” as it insisted that the Blackpool flood relief scheme was prepared in accordance with the European directives and the respective Irish regulations.

Last week, the campaign group Save Our Bride Otters (SOBO), which is objecting to the scheme on several grounds, including the culverting of 350m of the river Bride, was granted leave to take a judicial review of the decision of the Minister for Public Expenditure last April to approve it.

In a statement, the OPW says it has been served with notice of the court order and has been notified that a stay has been granted on works being carried out pending the resolution of the legal proceedings.

“The OPW accepts that this would mean that the construction of these badly needed flood relief works now could not commence until the judicial review proceedings are resolved, and is assessing its legal position in this regard,” it said. “The grounds for the judicial review are very much focussed on legal and legislative matters.

“The parties taking the judicial review seek to challenge the compatibility of certain Irish environmental regulations with the respective European Directives."

It said it is satisfied that it has prepared the proposed scheme "in accordance with the European Directives and the respective Irish regulations".

“Nonetheless, it respects the right of any individual or groups to challenge the decision to grant consent for the scheme or, in this case, the law upon which that decision is founded.” 

Mr O’Donovan, who had publicly appealed to SOBO not to take the legal challenge, said he “sincerely regrets” any delay in delivery of the scheme particularly for the 300 property owners who, he said, shall remain “at significant risk of flooding” until the work starts.

During a visit to Blackpool last week, Mr O’Donovan said the OPW is "not in the business of destroying anything".

“We take a long time to develop schemes in consultation with a variety of different groups," he said. 

"It goes through statutory processes, rigorous public consultation, we work with the statutory agencies, we go through a process that’s open to people afterwards to take a challenge and people are entitled to take challenges. 

The OPW can’t be detracted either from our obligation, which is first and foremost to protect victims of flooding.

He said he can’t and won’t apologise for standing up for people who are victims of flooding.

He rejected suggestions that OPW schemes over over-engineered, and too reliant on concrete and walls, as opposed to more natural flood management options.

“We look at anecdotal evidence but we will also look at the catchment and see where is the water coming from, and we will look at all of the technologies that are available," he said.

“We also look to see what is happening in other jurisdictions, what are other countries doing.

“Engineering solutions are part of the solution but they’re not the only part. But engineering is a big part of it because holding back water is not an easy thing to do.”

SOBO spokesman Chris Moody said campaigners do not wish to add to the hardship of the residents and businesses of Blackpool.

“We believe that the emergency flood measures implemented by Cork City Council after flooding in 2012/13, which involved the removal of a number of blockage hazards implicated in flooding, has greatly reduced flood risk in the village,” he said: 

We have time to find a solution that protects the residents and businesses from flooding that also leaves Blackpool Village with a river and an important wildlife corridor and habitat.

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