Design fears expressed as Galway announces €9m flood defence fund

Residents concerned flood defence could result in a 21st century wall being built around Galway’s medieval centre

The new Galway City Museum stands behind the Spanish Arch and the old museum.  Photograph: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

The new Galway City Museum stands behind the Spanish Arch and the old museum. Photograph: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

 

Fears have been expressed in Galway that a new €9 million flood defence fund for the city could result in a 21st century wall being built around its medieval centre.

The funding package announced by Minister of State at the Office of Public Works (OPW) Kevin “Boxer” Moran late last week is intended to protect the city centre from the extensive damage experienced during Storm Eleanor in earlyJanuary.

Mr Moran also announced funding of €494,000 for the city’s canal network.

While the measure has been welcomed by city businesses, some residents, along with environmental group An Taisce, have warned that any attempt to “impose” a flood defence design without consultation could backfire.

Like Cork, Galway’s river frontage is most exposed to flooding, which is expected to become much more frequent with sea level rise. The city’s 16th century Spanish Arch, 18th century Long Walk, the Claddagh and docks area are all vulnerable areas, along with Salthill, and up to 900 properties have been identified as at varying degrees of risk.

Mr Moran said that the OPW’s final catchment flood risk assessment and management (CFRAM) plan is due to be published shortly, and his office would “work closely with Galway City Council and the public” to ensure design and delivery “properly reflects the amenities and is integrated with other developments in these areas”.

Some residents in the Claddagh area, who were flooded early in January, have expressed relief at the speed of the Government response, but several others who spoke to The Irish Times said that the cheapest option, involving a wall, could be imposed.

The OPW’s Lower Lee flood relief plan for Cork attracted over 1200 submissions, and it is understood that Galway’s scheme will be conducted in phases in an attempt to minimise objections.

“We would welcome protection, but we’d be keen to see the design for defences,”An Taisce Galway branch spokesman Derrick Hambleton said.

“The temporary boom which the city council uses on the Corrib bank at Spanish Arch is unsightly, so would a permanent wall be, but the toughened glass panels installed in Waterford might very well suit Galway,” he said.

Labour councillor Niall MacNelis, whose business at the foot of Quay Street has been flooded three times in the last ten years, said he believed the high amenity and heritage status of the city centre would be recognised in designs.

“I would also be in favour of interim measures for residents, such as a grant scheme to purchase individual floor barriers for homes and businesses,”Cllr MacNelis said.

He has installed two flood barriers – a type of quarter door –at his premises, but his business was still engulfed on January 2nd during the surge associated with Storm Eleanor.

“I don’t think anyone could have predicted the Storm Eleanor impact, as it was a unique combination of tidal height, river height and a late change in wind direction,”he said. “There was also the fact that drains may not have been adequately cleaned.”

Cllr MacNelis said he believed that individual flood barriers were also more effective than sandbags, which could burst and block drains, and which were not available in sufficient quantities during Storm Eleanor.

A report issued by Galway City Council described Storm Eleanor as a “one in a 200-year” event, and Mayor of Galway Pearce Flannery rejected criticism of the local authority’s response.

Galway City Council was the only local authority on the western seaboard which was left off the national emergency coordination group’s warning list on the day of the storm. However, Mr Hambleton said “anyone with a tide table and an eye to weather” would have known the city was vulnerable.

In Galway county, a number of roads have been closed in the past week due to spot flooding, and there are fears that more extensive flooding could occur in areas around the Shannon and below the Slieve Aughty mountains this month.