Midleton seeks more ‘urgency’ on flood relief scheme as start date is flagged for 2027-2028

Public meeting told of ‘huge fear hanging over the town’ that there could be a repeat of the devastation caused by Storm Babet

Cork County Council was accused by people in Midleton of showing a lack of urgency in progressing both a flood relief scheme and interim measures to prevent a repeat of Storm Babet which devastated the town last month.

Around 80 people attended a public meeting with Cork County Council and Office of Public Works (OPW) officials on Tuesday night with several speakers accusing the two bodies of failing to appreciate local fears of further flooding.

South Cork divisional manager Michael Lynch began the meeting with a presentation of the council response to Storm Babet on October 18th and an outline of the progress on the Midleton Flood Relief Scheme which was initially costed at under €20 million but now is expected to cost €50 million.

He told the meeting, which was organised by Midleton and Area Chamber of Commerce, that the delivery of the flood relief scheme consists of five stages and the first stage, comprising data collection, baseline surveys, hydrology, hydraulic modelling and damages, has been finalised, and a preferred option for the flood relief scheme has been identified.

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Mr Lynch said the preferred option would protect 580 properties, both residential and business in Midleton from a 1-in-100 year river flood and a 1-in-200 year tidal flood. While no flood relief scheme will eliminate risk, it was “designed to be able to respond to future events”.

The flood relief scheme was about to enter the second stage, which involves securing planning permission and consent from 80 landowners, and while it was a slow process, the council could not be seen to be cutting corners as failure to follow protocols could lead to further delays down the line.

The council will seek public consent for the work but has yet to decide whether to do so via Section 10 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 as part of an overall strategy for the proper planning of an area or to proceed via the Arterial Drainage Act 1945 which has different conditions.

The council expects to be in a position to apply for public consent in Q3 2025 and the meeting heard that, all going well and there are no requests for further information from the planning authorities or objections and legal challenges, work could start on the project in 2027 or 2028.

In the meanwhile, the council has proposed interim measures which include clearance work of the Owenacurra and Dungourney river channels including the removal of fallen trees from the rivers and the installation of gauges on the river as well as the diversion of a watermain at Carrigogna Bridge.

However, businesswoman Barbara Hurley said she did not get a “sense of urgency” from the council.

“There is a huge fear hanging over the town that there will be a repeat [of Storm Babet] tomorrow or next week... the flood relief scheme is the end game but it’s just too far off,” said Ms Hurley who owns a jewellers on Main Street.

“Both residents and business owners, we are on our knees and people [in authority] need to take heed because we have been here before and we have seen little progress since 2015 and 2016 when we were flooded – we are in the same position we were eight years ago.”

Ms Hurley was supported by fellow shop owner, Sinead Morrissey of Bertelli Menswear on Main Street whose shop was also flooded last month as it was back in both 2015 and 2016. She highlighted what she said was a lack of preparedness by the council for Storm Babet.

“I was up rodding the drains that morning at 8am and I went up to the council yard at 9am to get sandbags and there were none left – we are all living of fear of a repeat because if this happens again, at least 40 per cent of businesses will close and Midleton will become a collapsed town.”

Mr Lynch said part of the problem that resulted in so much damage in Midleton was the fact that unprecedented levels of rainfall – 121 mm – fell over a 36 hour period in East Cork and Midleton at a time when Met Éireann issued an orange rainfall warning for all of Cork county.

“Storm Babet was greater than a 1-in-100 year flood and water levels rose by one metre in the town centre,” said Mr Lynch, adding the council response was based on the general orange rainfall warning for all of Co Cork whereas higher levels of rainfall fell in East Cork and in Midleton.

If Met Éireann had issued area specific warnings so that a red rainfall warning was issued for east Cork there would have been a different response where schools would have been closed and fewer people would have been out and about and there would have been fewer cars damaged, he said.

Midleton Chamber member Paul Murphy said he appreciated both council officials and OPW officers attending the meeting but there was a real sense that the Midleton flood relief scheme was taking too long and, after the devastation wreaked by Storm Babet, people were worried.

“There is a feeling that everything is taking so long. It seems to be taking forever and it looks like we could get a lot more Babets over the next seven or eight years so people are worried - co-ordination is not as good as it should be - maybe a war cabinet of sorts, an emergency committee needs to be set up.”

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times