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Flood Relief Schemes Status

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 24 November 2016

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Questions (21)

Aindrias Moynihan


21. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the steps he is taking to advance detailed design of the Baile Bhuirne flood defences; and when the scheme will advance to construction. [36369/16]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Public)

Flood defences at Baile Bhuirne have been discussed for many years and were part of the original CFRAM pilot programme. There were exhibitions in November 2011 and draft designs were advanced in 2014. Householders are being flooded repeatedly in the absence of flood defences and need to see progress. They need peace of mind and protection from floods.

I am advised by the Commissioners of Public Works that the Ballymakeera-Ballyvourney scheme is at outline design stage where the preferred options of the scheme are being finalised.

As the River Sullane has a history of freshwater pearl mussels which have protected status as an annex II listed species under the EU habitats directive, an environmental survey was carried out to establish the status of the population and the likely impact of works. Given the impact the proposed works will have on the freshwater pearl mussel population, a solution to avoid damage had to be illustrated which was submitted to the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. This submission has now been approved, which has allowed progress to be made to where site investigations will be carried out, with the results informing the preferred options of the scheme.

It is proposed to hold a second public information day, to be followed by a public exhibition of the preferred scheme in 2017. When these stages are successfully completed, the scheme can be progressed to detailed design stage and confirmation, following which, if considered viable, construction can commence. My office continues to liaise with Cork County Council and local representatives on the scheme.

It seems that the scheme has not advanced a great deal in the past one or two years. The freshwater pearl mussel has always been in the river and we have lived together for a long time. It is important that the mussel be protected, but the proposed defences are not in the river but up river banks, set back some distance and with walls. They should have minimum impact and the freshwater pearl mussels could be protected without further delaying the construction of the defences.

It also frustrates locals when they see that a wind farm can be fast-tracked through the key infrastructure planning process only 100 m from the same riverbank and build embankments and bridges onto the riverbank, without the difficulties posed by the freshwater pearl mussel, while locals are held back. We need to get defences in place to give residents in Baile Bhuirne peace of mind that flood waters will not be coming in around their ankles at night and that they will not constantly have to rebuild their lives after floods.

I share the Deputy’s concerns about how some projects can get stuck in the process. There are five stages, the first of which is the feasibility study and preparation of a flood risk management plan. Stage two is public consultation; while stage three is public exhibition, effectively a planning permission phase which has a statutory timeframe. If it comes through public exhibition stage quickly and with no objections, it will move to detailed design, confirmation and tender stage. I am hopeful the project will progress. It has got over the sticky environmental issues and will continue to progress. It has a budget of €3 million which makes it a sizeable project. We have to take it in its entirety to meet the cost benefit analysis. The Deputy asked why we did not do the walls first and then deal with the pearl mussel up river, but it has to be undertaken as a full scheme to meet the cost benefit analysis. I will keep it on the radar and officials in the Department will continue to liaise with the local authority in that regard.

The details the Minister of State has laid out are helpful. It is difficult for residents who saw exhibitions in 2011 and draft designs in 2014 to feel the scheme has not advanced in the meantime and may still be moving more slowly. They have a constant fear of flooding. To see another development no more than 100 m from the riverbank moving along and receiving planning permission without the same hold-up is difficult. Tá sé fíorthábhachtach do mhuintir Bhaile Bhuirne go mbogfaí ar aghaidh leis an bhfalla cosanta agus go ndéanfar an obair chun iad a chosaint ó na tuilte i mBaile Bhuirne. The floods impact not only on householders but also block the national primary road, the N22, which should further strengthen the cost-benefit analysis. I ask the Minister of State to prioritise the scheme with his officials.

Flood relief schemes generally are a priority for the Government. We have a whole-of-government approach to them. This scheme is in progress. Sometimes progress is not made as quickly as people would like because there are complex environmental engineering solutions to be found. We have the solutions in place, but we have to have an exhibition, followed by a tender process. I take on board the view that no project should be held up. I am not aware of the other project mentioned by the Deputy and cannot comment on how it got through or by what mechanisms. While people are critical of the CFRAM programme, it will knock approximately two years off the time it takes to complete a project. This one is moving ahead and I look forward to it starting on site.