Business representative organisations in Cork have expressed strong support for a €140 million Office of Public Works flood-relief scheme for the city despite a campaign group claiming the plan would reduce access to the river Lee for Corkonians.
In a joint submission to the OPW, both Cork Chamber and Cork Business Association, which between them represent around 1,300 businesses, said the plan would future proof the city centre for economic activity and protect Cork's historic core from future damage.
They said adequate flood protection had long been a key priority for businesses that provide thousands of jobs within the city centre, especially since floods in 2004, 2009 and 2014 caused €150 million in damages.
Barrie O’Connell, president of Cork Chamber, said “the €140 million investment will result in Cork benefitting from the development of more than 1km of new public walkways, a new boardwalk, new public plazas, the €20 million clean-up and restoration of over 3km of masonry quay walls”.
“There will be better disability access to our pathways, adequate protection of 3,179 properties, including almost 400 protected structures, while at the same time defending Cork City from repetitive flood damage.”
Pat O’Connell, president of the
Cork Business Association
who has a stall in the English Market in the city centre, said he had stood in two feet of flood water on the Grand Parade in 2009, and believed the OPW plan was the only realistic option to prevent any repeat of that catastrophic event.
“I have seen my neighbours distraught and disillusioned as they tried to salvage their flooded premises, a situation made worse by the fact that they were and continue to be unable to get insurance due to previous flooding. I would not wish this distress on anybody.
“After careful and diligent research the only realistic option that I can see and I stress the word ‘realistic’ is the flood defence option put forward by the Office of Public Works. Their plan quite obviously from the detail has been well considered, studied and adapted to the needs of Cork city.”
However, the Save Cork City group, which has held protests around the city to highlight its concerns about the OPW plan, claims that business people it has spoken to in the city centre share its concern that the flood-relief measures proposed will reduce access to the river for Corkonians.
According to architect Sean Antóin Ó Muirí, a member of the group, it has spent the past few weeks meeting people for its Humans of Cork campaign on Facebook and Twitter, and it found people were against the OPW plan, with many concerned about the timing of the works.
“Almost universally, the more people hear about the wall proposal, the more they turn against it. We’ve had businesses say to us that they are worried about the effect of massive construction on the city centre,” said Mr Ó Muirí.
According to fellow Save Cork City campaigner John Hegarty, business people in Cork "don't want their beautiful city ruined" when there are alternatives available ,and he instanced Denis Cotter of Cafe Paradiso and Rebecca Harte of Farm Gate as just two such business people to back them.
“Everybody wants flood relief but they don’t want the OPW’s crude, outdated and ineffective plan. They want a plan that works, that won’t kill the city they love,” said Mr Hegarty, adding that the group was continuing to meet businesses and public representatives to campaign against the plan.
The plan involves introducing changes to the operating procedures at Inniscarra and Carrigadrohid reservoirs on the river Lee to ensure a more managed discharge of water down towards Cork city, and the construction of flood defences along the river from Inniscarra down to Cork city.
The works include the construction of a barrier near the Kingsley Hotel to divert flood waters from the South Channel down the higher capacity North Channel, the construction of embankments in Fitzgerald Park, and the replacement of railings with stone or concrete walls on some city quays.
Last Friday was the closing date for submissions on the plan, and the OPW will respond to all those who made submissions before any decision is taken on the project, which the OPW estimates will take six to seven years to complete.