I would like to be in a position to give Senators some idea of the extent to which our coasts are being damaged by the encroachment of the sea but there is very little up-to-date information on the problem available. The last general examination of the position was made thirty-two years ago when an inter-departmental committee reported to the then Minister for Local Government and Public Health that there was no conclusive evidence of any really grave erosive action and that much of the erosion was of little practical importance; there were, however, a small number of cases in which erosion was taking place with so much damage or danger to property as to assume, what might be termed, "public importance". I doubt if there has been any material change since and I think it could safely be taken that the committee's assessment still holds good.
The purpose of this Bill is to provide machinery under which county councils and county borough corporations can have cases of erosion in their areas investigated and protective works carried out if protection is possible at a cost which bears a reasonable relation to the value of the property being damaged or endangered. The word "erosion" is not used in the Bill but the terms of the Bill make it quite clear that only genuine and serious cases of erosion will be eligible for treatment. Works may be carried out only when land "is being progressively damaged by the continuing encroachment of the sea, as distinct from occasional or abnormal storms" and "the encroachment is liable to endanger the safety of a harbour, the buildings or amenities of a residential area or other valuable property". Storm damage is specifically excluded and this is of some importance as there is very often confusion between storm damage and erosion. Storm damage is an isolated occurrence but erosion, even though it may be aggravated or accelerated by storms, is a continuing process.
Within the past ten years State aid has been made available for coast protection works in three areas — Bray, Wicklow town and Rosslare Strand. In these cases it was known that the danger to valuable property was imminent and it was possible in each case to put the work in hands without administrative or other difficulties. At Bray the work done was the underpinning of a sea wall which was being progressively undermined. At Wicklow the work was also straight forward consisting mainly of the dumping of heavy protective rubble. Rosslare is the best known and most important of these cases and Senators may be interested to learn something of the work which has been done and is still being done there by the Commissioners of Public Works.
The Wexford County Council had, for many years, made representations for Exchequer aid to arrest erosion at Rosslare Strand, but no positive action was taken. On 3rd May, 1955, they offered to provide £3,000 annually for four years provided that a substantial grant from State sources would be made and the work carried out by the appropriate State Department. In June, 1957, the Government decided, as an exceptional measure, that a programme consisting of a survey and some experimental and direct protection works should be proceeded with by the Office of Public Works. It was agreed between the Wexford County Council and the Office of Public Works that the work should cover the portion of the beach, approximately 3½ miles long, from a point near the churchyard, immediately south of the village of Rosslare Strand, to a point approximately halfway along the Spit.
Works were commenced in 1957, and after experimentation, in which various types of groynes and protection works were tried, a scheme of works was evolved. Under this scheme, a length of about 6,000 yards of beach was covered by a series of groynes, of different types. In general, the groynes were spaced at 150 yards intervals along the beach. The groynes are in the main constructed of round timber stakes. This type of construction is very economical and allows the use of native timbers. The Village section over a length of 650 yards has, in addition, been protected by 5½ ton concrete blocks laid along the beach head; over the parts where erosion was most severe, these blocks are in double rows. Seriously threatened parts of the Golf Course section have also been given direct protection by the erection of stake breast works. The denuded part of the Spit has been reinstated by the construction of a double line of ridge works to back the groynes, and by the use of wind breaks and by grass planting. The beach has also been nourished by transferring material from low water to above High Water Springs to speed up the action of the groynes, and to give immediate protection to the banks.
As foreseeable, the works necessary to complete the scheme include the following:—The general duplication of the present system of groynes, i.e. to give a system of groynes spaced at 75 yard intervals; the extension of stake breast works, if necessary over those sections which up to now have not been given direct protection; the construction of windbreaks and grass planting on the Spit; and the construction of low water protection works on the Spit—if such are found to be necessary. The works will probably be completed in 1964 and the total cost will be about £120,000. The Wexford County Council, who have contributed approximately £30,000, were informed that their contribution would be examined, and a refund made if it exceeded the proportion determined by this Bill to be contributed by local authorities towards the cost of Coast Protection Works. Any refund to the council can be dealt with as an administrative matter and will be entirely outside the provisions of the Bill.
The type of protection works adopted is simple and economical, and it is expected that the works when completed, will give reasonable protection under the present conditions of erosion on that portion of the beach where they have been undertaken. The Commissioners' engineers have learned a great deal from the Rosslare works and this knowledge can be profitably used in the planning and carrying out of future coast protection schemes. I might mention that in 1937, at the request of the Wexford County Council, an English expert on coast protection, Mr. S.W. Mobbs of Lowestoft, East Suffolk, made an investigation at Rosslare and recommended that groynes and an extensive system of retaining walls should be erected at a cost then estimated at £340,000—the equivalent of about £1,000,000 now. As the present scheme is so very much simpler and less costly it was considered desirable to obtain up-to-date advice from Mr. J. Duvivier, a well know London expert. Mr. Duvivier visited Rosslare and expressed the opinion that the works being carried out were on the best lines. The works will, of course, have to be very carefully maintained and in the Bill provision is made for maintaining them in the same manner as works which are carried out under the Bill. This provision is necessary because otherwise the county council would have no authority to pay the maintenance costs.
Although in the three cases I have mentioned it was possible to put the work in hands without any special coast protection legislation, it is by no means certain that in other cases problems of access or interference with privately owned property could be overcome without special powers. Some statutory machinery for dealing with the whole problem is clearly needed and as I have already said the aim of this Bill is to provide the machinery required.
Senators may be aware that this is not the first Coast Protection Bill which has been prepared. In 1956 our predecessors in Government introduced a Coast Protection Bill in Dáil Éireann and it was under discussion when the Dáil was dissolved and the Bill lapsed. This Bill is generally on the same lines as the 1956 Bill but with some important variations, particularly in the financial provisions. The maximum State grant for a coast protection scheme is raised from 50 per cent to the very generous figure of 80 per cent of the cost. Only half the costs incurred by the Commissioners of Public Works on a scheme which does not proceed to execution will now be recoverable from the local authority concerned while under the older Bill the local authority were liable for the full amount of these costs.
Briefly, the Bill provides that if the council of a county or a County Borough are satisfied that land within their area is being progressively damaged by the continuing encroachment of the sea and that the encroachment is liable to endanger valuable property, they may promote a coast protection scheme. If the encroachment affects land in two or more counties, the councils are required to name one council as the authority to promote the scheme. The council or councils shall cause a report on the encroachment to be prepared before a council as a promoting authority under the Bill requests a preliminary examination to be made by the Commissioners of Public Works. If, following the preliminary examination, the Commissioners report that a coast protection scheme is feasible—which is intended to mean practicable within economic limits of cost—they may at the further request of the promoting authority and subject to the consent of the Minister for Finance prepare a scheme.
The scheme, which will show the percentage grant available—not more than 80 per cent—will be exhibited by the promoting authority. They will notify any person affected and consider any observations received and report to the Commissioners on the observations and any alterations which they propose should be made in the scheme. Having considered that report, the Commissioners will submit the scheme to the Minister for Finance with their recommendation. The Minister may refuse to confirm a scheme, or may confirm it with or without alterations. Should he confirm it the Commissioners will be empowered to carry out the works. The difference between the cost of a scheme and the State grant will be payable by the promoting authority subject to such contributions by other local authorities, harbour authorities or other beneficiaries as may be arranged. At any stage before a scheme is submitted to the Minister the promoting authority will be free to decide that the scheme should not proceed and they would then be liable for half the costs and expenses incurred up to that stage. All decisions by a county council on the promotion of a scheme or withdrawal from a scheme will be reserved functions—in other words, within the compass of the elected Representatives as opposed to an Executive function of the State or the county managers.
Powers are provided for entry on lands, etc., for compulsory acquisition or interference with lands or other rights; for payment of compensation; and for the holding of a public inquiry in relation to proposals for a scheme.
Maintenance of completed works will be the responsibility of the Commissioners of Public Works but costs and expenses incurred by them on maintenance will be refunded by the authority who promoted the scheme.
Certain necessary provisions of a miscellaneous nature are made, e.g., to make bye-laws, to abandon protection works no longer capable of being maintained at reasonable cost and to employ contractors.
As the extent of the coast protection work needed is not known and as the initiation of schemes is left to county councils it is not possible to give any estimate of the expenditure which will fall to be met from the Exchequer. I can only say that in planning coast protection works, the aim of the Commissioners will be to secure reasonably effective protection at the lowest possible cost. I recommend this Bill to the House.