A Government Minister has urged campaigners opposed to a €150 million flood relief scheme in Cork to withdraw legal action delaying delivery of the project in the wake of the latest floods to hit the city centre.
Minister of State at the Office of Public Works Patrick O’Donovan urged the campaigners to consider withdrawing the review application.
“Everybody has a right to object and I am fully supportive of the legal processes that are in place but the OPW and Cork City Council have taken on board an awful lot of the views that were expressed.
“I’m appealing to people to think again, pull back from what is going on and consider withdrawing the judicial review [application] that is preventing the Lower Lee Flood Relief scheme from going ahead,” he said.
The proposed OPW Lower Lee Flood Relief Scheme was drawn up in the wake of the 2009 flood which hit much of the low lying parts of Cork city.
But the OPW has met opposition from campaign group Save Cork City which claims that the plan is too dependent on building walls which will limit access to the river and will fail to protect the city from flooding.
Save Cork City has mounted a number of legal challenges to Cork City Council’s €6 million Morrison’s Island Public Realm Project, which forms part of the OPW scheme to protect the area from flooding.
The group mounted a legal challenge in 2019 to the Morrison’s Island project which forced the council to submit a new planning application to An Bord Pleanála which granted planning for the project last June.
But Save Cork City has since appealed to the High Court for leave to seek a judicial review of the An Bord Pleanála decision. The court is due to rule on November 3rd on whether the group can proceed with the legal challenge.
Cork city centre was hit by severe flooding on Tuesday morning with many business owners having to bail out waters after the river Lee burst its banks. Gardaí were forced to close off a number of low-lying streets as flood waters, up to a foot high in places, began to make some streets impassable.
Up to 30 car owners may be counting the cost after leaving their cars parked on Fr Mathew Quay, Morrison's Island and the South Mall where flood waters rose well over their door sills and entered the cars.
Speaking in the Dáil on Tuesday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin pledged supports for businesses and residents hit by the flooding. He said “the long-term plan is the OPW plan” and the scheme should be allowed to go ahead.
Cork City Council director of services David Joyce said business owners on the low-lying city centre street had heeded council warnings about the flooding and they had sandbagged their doors to stop waters entering their properties.
“It’s not as bad as we thought it would be two hours ago but there’s still a huge amount of water coming in off the south channel – the South Mall is impassable but so far no properties appear to have been damaged,” he said.
According to Mr Joyce, all the flooding on the South Mall and Oliver Plunkett Street and the streets linking the two came through Morrison’s Island and would be addressed by the Lower Lee Flood Relief Scheme.
Speaking after visiting some of the flooded businesses in the Oliver Plunkett and Winthrop Street areas, Mr O’Donovan said he felt for traders hit by the flooding given all the other challenges they face.
“There are traders in this city, who are two days away from a six-week lockdown. We won’t be able to deliver a flood relief scheme in six weeks but what we can deliver is a degree of certainty so we can move forward.”
And he reiterated his appeal to Save Cork City to think again, withdraw their application so work can start on the scheme as quickly as possible.
“I would appeal to them to look at the faces of those traders in Princes Street, Oliver Plunkett Street, Marlboro Street, all over Morrison’s Island and tell them it’s okay to have this dragged out further because it’s not okay.
“We have listened to the objections, we have modified the scheme, it is a better scheme, it is more aesthetic – we have taken an awful lot of points on board – it’s there to protect the city and it needs to be delivered.”
Mr O’Donovan said it was inevitable that similar floods would take place in Cork city centre over the coming years unless the flood relief scheme was complete.
Ezra MacManamon of the OPW said that the Morrison’s Island project, which would address up to 80 per cent of the tidal flooding that affects Cork city centre, would be completed by now but for the various objections.
“We estimate the construction will take 12-18 months but now who knows when it is going to get started? If the objectors are granted leave in November to seek a judicial review, then that hearing may not take place until next year.
“There is a legal process under way where Save Cork City is seeking leave to take a judicial review – I can’t interfere with that but nobody has a monopoly on saving Cork city, the OPW and Cork City Council want to save Cork city too.”
Save Cork City issued a statement in which it said it was “very saddened” to see people in difficulty due to Tuesday’s flooding in Cork but said it had worked at all times to ensure Cork got a flood defence system it deserved.
“We will reconsider all our actions in the next few days including any court action,” said the group but stressed that it still believed the OPW plan based on building walls along the quays was not the way forward for Cork.
“The one solution of flood defence walls and demountable barriers offered to Cork is out of step with current thinking and far more destructive to the city than other possibilities.
“Many changes have taken place since the inception of the flood walls by the drainage department of OPW and the costs now mean that better solutions have become viable and preferable.”
Save Cork City said the OPW and Cork City Council plan for Morrison’s Island would have not prevented the flooding that occurred on Monday night and Tuesday morning in the centre of Cork city and people needed to know that.
“Serious concerns over the Morrison’s Island scheme have been raised relating to groundwater changes and a connection to the subsidence of buildings in the Island of Cork that haven’t been resolved.
“Cork cannot face years of construction of flood walls in the city that don’t provide a solution to protect people and would fail,” said the group, adding that the failures would become obvious over time.