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Departmental Projects

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 21 July 2020

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

Questions (24)

Brendan Griffin

Question:

24. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will examine the potential of existing and future flood prevention embankments and similar infrastructure to double as walking and cycling infrastructure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16945/20]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Public)

I want to raise with the Minister of State the potential that exists from flood prevention embankments, for example, and other infrastructure across the country doubling as walking and cycling infrastructure. We have referenced this in the greenways strategy, but it is an area on which I believe we can do a great deal of work. We often look at flood prevention works and the infrastructure that is needed as money that has to be spent without a return, but there could be a huge return for communities and for the Exchequer if we double up that infrastructure and use it for walking and cycling tourism and as amenities. Some embankments are already in use for that purpose. In my locality, the River Maine embankment is used as part of the Keel uphill-downhill loop walk, for example, but across the country there is enormous potential to do a great deal for walking and cycling through doubling up this infrastructure. I would like to hear the Minister of State's views on it.

I thank the Deputy. I have a very short reply but if he asks a supplementary question it might improve matters. The provision of walkways and cycleways is a matter for local authorities and the OPW does not have any function in the role. The OPW is responsible for the maintenance of embankments that form part of arterial drainage schemes completed under the Arterial Drainage Acts. The embankments are not in State ownership but are on lands that are for the most part privately owned. Also, the embankments were not designed or constructed to cater for such cycleways or walkways. Therefore, the provision of cycleways or walkways on such embankments is not feasible. In respect of embankments that might form part of future OPW-funded flood relief schemes, the OPW is happy to work actively with any local authorities that wish to explore opportunities for the provision, where feasible, of added value elements such as cycling and walking within the development of flood defence structures.

I thank the Minister of State. Regarding the future, something that is designed from a bespoke point of view can be used for two purposes but some of the existing embankments, for example, are already in use for walking purposes. One of the commitments in the programme for Government is the development of consultation with communities on the development of the wild Atlantic walkway. Some of the existing embankments could play a major part in rolling out that particular new product for the entire country. It would be very helpful if the OPW would engage with other partners in government and other agencies with a view to seeing how that could work. Also, through the OPW some fantastic relationships with landowners have been built up over the years, and that healthy relationship could be very helpful in getting a consensus approach to developing our tourism and amenity offering further, especially along the western seaboard but across the country by our riverbanks and on the east coast, which experiences flooding issues. It is an opportunity, particularly in the context of where we are currently, because the great outdoors will become more important in the time ahead and it would be an area that would be fantastic to progress in the next couple of years.

I totally agree with Deputy Griffin. A commitment I will make is to explore this further. It is accepted that the existing and older defences, which would be the traditional ones we are all used to seeing throughout the country, might not have the capability to have any sort of walking or cycling infrastructure placed on top of them. However, in terms of some of the newer ones, this is something that could possibly go in at a very early stage in the design, and the public consultation element, with the Office of Public Works. We have many flood defences in planning, some of which are in the early stage of design, with more of them being fairly advanced. I will ask my officials, especially in respect of those at a very early stage, to see if we can get some sort of collaboration on this, together with local authorities. Ultimately, there may be some sort of collaboration that can be done and, one never knows, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, under Deputy Eamon Ryan, might be able to help us also with some of the funding of it, which will always be welcome.

It is very encouraging to hear that because through that collaborative approach we could get fantastic value added from what we know we have to spend anyway, but it would be great to get more of a return rather than just the primary flood defence return that we would get from such investment. As I said earlier, some of the newer infrastructure could be designed in such a way that it would be perfect to cater for those additional needs, but some of the older infrastructure can be used also. I gave the example from the main arterial drainage scheme in my locality close to where I live and where I often walk. We have a fantastic amenity in the Keel uphill-downhill loop walk, which is along that old Maine river embankment. We have many of those throughout the country. That was done through consultation with the landowners following which a consensus was agreed. My vision is that we would get all of these pieces of infrastructure, which fantastic people built over the decades, working for the wider community but also that the landowners, with their full consensus, would be able to gain from this financially in that there may be financial support for landowners through various schemes across different Departments. That would be a very pro-rural step forward but it would also be something that would set us aside internationally as a destination for walking and cycling.

As the Deputy knows, because an element of this is that we both have had the lashes on our backs on occasion in regard to the development of greenways, greenways and cycleways are often dependent on the goodwill and the permissive access of landowners. Any changes to the way the Office of Public Works would go about the design and roll-out of any kind of flood embankment would have to include the local community, particularly those on whose lands they are based because there would not only be a flood defence put in place but also a public right of way. This is not something we would simply be able to make happen. It would involve, as I said in my first response, a detailed planning and consultation process. However, it is something worthy of consideration, especially the size, location and number of these embankments that will be required as the State finishes out the national development plan up to 2026. Perhaps a collaboration between the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Office of Public Works can be arrived at in conjunction with the local authorities and the local landowners, while there could be also some cost and burden sharing.

It is certainly something I would consider, as would the Office of Public Works, OPW.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.
Sitting suspended at 6.20 p.m. and resumed at 6.40 p.m.
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