I welcome the opportunity to address the joint committee on the important issue of obtaining insurance in areas that have experienced the impacts of flooding from extreme weather events. I thank members for rearranging their schedule to facilitate our attendance at the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform shortly. OPW has a specific role in the transfer of information to the insurance industry on flood risk and flood defences. We have no responsibility for oversight or regulation of the insurance industry or to insurance matters generally.
It may be useful if I briefly outline the role and responsibilities of the OPW in relation to flood risk management. Following a strategic review of flood risk policy in 2004, the Office of Public Works was assigned the lead co-ordinating role for flood risk management in Ireland. We deliver services in the following key areas: strategic planning to manage flood risk into the future under the catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, programme in compliance with the EU floods directive and under the Irish coastal protection strategic studies; a programme of capital investment to address existing flood risks to properties and infrastructure through major and minor flood relief projects, in partnership with local authorities; and programmed maintenance of those arterial drainage and urban flood relief schemes completed under the Arterial Drainage Acts. To support these activities we engage in a number of important information gathering exercises, including in particular collection of hydrometric data to improve the estimation of water level flow and to enhance the quality and reliability of flood relief design and mitigation measures. We also developed awareness programmes among the public and businesses of the risks of flooding and provided information on how to plan, prepare and protect against flood risk. We also commission research into areas related to flood risk management activities.
In carrying out its functions the OPW works in close co-operation with other State bodies, principally the local authorities who are the other main players with key responsibilities in relation to flood risk management in the country. In this context it is important to stress that while the OPW and the local authorities work in partnership in many areas, the local authorities are responsible for distinct areas of work in relation to flood risk such as leading the emergency response to flooding, the urban drainage infrastructure and the maintenance of certain water courses and channels.
At the core of the OPW's work is the objective of reducing to the greatest extent possible the level of flood risk to people, property, infrastructure and the environment. At a strategic level it is overseeing the most comprehensive national initiative to systematically identify, assess, document and report on the most significant flood risks throughout the country. These assessments, known as the CFRAM programme, will generate detailed flood maps showing flood extents and other flood parameters such as depth and velocity. They will recommend an integrated management plan and prioritised measures to address flood problems in areas of significant risk in each major catchment in the country. The CFRAM programme will inform the long-term planning of flood risk management measures throughout the country, including structural and constructed flood defences and non-structural measures. Both the flood maps and the identification and outline design of flood risk management measures under CFRAM will consider a range of potential future scenarios, including the potential impacts of climate change, to ensure capacity for adaptation is built into the flood risk management strategy and measures. The output from the CFRAM programme in a recent pilot project included the production of 1,100 maps showing flood extents, depths and velocities. Approximately 250 km of channels were surveyed and more than 275 sq. km. of detailed flood plain modelling was carried out. This project required the development of nine hydraulic models of the river and its tributaries and the production of various reports, including an inception report, a strategic environmental assessment at scoping level and final report stage, a hydrology report and hydraulic reports. Ultimately a catchment flood risk management plan was drawn up.
In more immediate terms the OPW is addressing flood risk in critical areas through its capital investment programme for both major and minor alleviation works. Witnesses at the committee's previous meetings made comments which suggest that the OPW is not spending enough on flood relief works. The figures will show this is not the case. Under the Government's infrastructure and capital investment medium term Exchequer framework 2012-16, a total of €225 million has been allocated for capital flood relief measures over the five-year period of the framework. This allocation, when combined with the amount spent by the OPW on flood relief measures since the introduction of the Arterial Drainage (Amendment) Act 1995 of €320 million, will result in total expenditure of almost €500 million on flood relief up to 2016. This is a substantial investment by any standard, especially in the current difficult economic environment, and expenditure to date on flood relief works has brought significant benefits to communities and towns throughout the country. The OPW estimates that over 5,000 properties have benefited from this investment, with the estimated benefit in terms of damage and loss avoided amounting to almost €900 million. The insurance industry has also benefited from this investment as its large claims payment costs for flooding, which amounted to almost €700 million since 2000, would have been much higher but for the remedial and defence works undertaken by the OPW on behalf of the State and taxpayers.
Under its major capital works programme, the OPW currently has nine major flood relief schemes at construction stage. It is expected that a further five schemes will commence construction before the end of 2013, subject to completion of procurement and other preparatory formalities and the availability of funding. A further 26 schemes are at various stages of design and planning.
Approximately €30 million is expected to be expended on all these schemes during the year. Under the minor works and coastal protection scheme, OPW provides funding to local authorities for smaller scale, more localised mitigation measures they wish to undertake in their areas. It is open to any local authority to submit an application to OPW for funding under this administrative scheme. Total funding of €21.6 million has been provided since 2009 in respect of 400 projects. While it is difficult to know exactly how many properties were protected, we reckon more than 2,400 properties in addition to the ones I mentioned earlier have varying levels of protection from this expenditure.
Under the arterial drainage maintenance programme, the OPW will continue in 2013 to undertake ongoing maintenance of completed arterial drainage and flood relief measures. At some of the previous meetings of the committee on this matter some contributors commented on the delays in getting major flood relief projects off the ground and completed. The OPW appreciates that, especially in the wake of a severe flood event, there can be an expectation that flood mitigation measures can be implemented quickly. It is important to point out however, that major flood relief schemes involve complex engineering and construction operations that can impact on people's living, built and natural environment and therefore require lengthy planning and decision lead-in times.
The process, defined by legislation, requires that OPW follow a number of stages from feasibility through procurement and public consultation to construction. It is important that the work is done correctly and achieves its objectives. Detailed technical analysis is required to establish the most appropriate solution, technically and environmentally, from a range of possible mitigation options. Extensive public consultation is required at various stages to ensure that those affected by a scheme have the opportunity to input into its design and implementation. Ecological and archaeological issues often require in-depth analysis to inform the technical solution and to enable the necessary statutory consents to be obtained. Finally, the process and time scales for procuring consultants and contractors, which is governed by EU law, is onerous and has a prescribed methodology. The OPW at all times strives to expedite and progress capital flood relief works with the minimum delay within the resources available to it.
I mentioned earlier that there may be a need to clarify the nature of the OPW's current engagement with the insurance industry regarding the difficulties some people are experiencing in obtaining flood risk insurance. As I indicated, the OPW has no role or responsibility regarding the oversight or regulation of the insurance industry. The discussions which are taking place between the OPW and the Irish Insurance Federation, IIF, have a specific focus and are concerned purely with agreeing a basis on which information can be provided to the insurance industry on flood relief schemes completed by the OPW and the standard of protection offered by those schemes. The discussions are taking place in the context of a joint OPW-IIF working group which also includes representatives of the main insurance companies operating in the Irish market.
Good progress is being made in the discussions and while there have been many technical details and issues to work through, the group is nearing agreement on the basis for providing information in an acceptable format which will enable the insurance companies to take this information into account when assessing flood risk to property. The information being provided is in a readily accessible geographical information system, GIS, format which will show in digital map files the areas benefiting from completed flood defence works. The initial focus is to provide information on schemes which provide protection for the one in 100 year flood event.
The OPW is satisfied that the insurance industry is engaging constructively and positively in this process and that there is a strong willingness to co-operate to reach agreement on a sustainable system of information exchange. Ultimately, it is a matter for the insurance companies themselves to decide how they will use the information provided on completed flood defence works. As part of the process they are committed to taking the information into account in their assessment of risk and it is hoped that this will facilitate the provision of flood cover in areas that are protected by completed schemes.
Looking beyond the current process, the comprehensive catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM programme to identify and assess flood risk nationally will, in time, provide a level of information which will enable the insurance industry to take decisions on the provision of cover based on the fullest possible assessment of that risk. In conclusion, the OPW is committed to doing all it can within available resources to identify the measures necessary to manage the risks from flood events, through the CFRAM programme to identify those risks and through capital works to reduce the existing level of risk to properties, infrastructure and the environment. I am happy to take any questions.