In December, Ireland and the UK experienced a succession of storms, which produced rainfall records with persistent heavy rain and wind causing thousands of homes and businesses to be damaged by flooding. Towns like Bandon in West Cork, still anxiously waiting for a €10 million flood relief scheme to be delivered by the OPW, faced an onslaught, as the Bandon River burst its banks twice, flooding dozens of businesses and residents in the town.
After counting the cost of Storm Desmond, the Bandon community in the West Cork town voiced their anger to government over the delay in the delivery of the flood relief scheme. A 1500 strong rally organised by Friends of Bandon on December 7 called on immediate action for work to start on the scheme.
Incredibly, the town centre was flooded again on December 30, as Storm Frank hit the south of the country.
With the local community and emergency services rallying behind them, devastated but irrepressible traders in Bandon reopened for business almost immediately after being flooded on both occasions.
With the contractor tendering process now closed, Bandon is eagerly awaiting news of the outcome so that flood relief works can progress as quickly as possible.
Simon Harris, TD, Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works (OPW) has made assurances that the Bandon Scheme will be constructed over the 2016-2018 period. The main elements of the proposed works include new walls and embankments, excavating the channel, replacement of the pedestrian bridge, underpinning the Bandon Bridge, new fish passages and associated drainage works, including pumping stations.
“I would like to assure the community of Bandon that my Office, the Office of Public Works, is progressing the Bandon project as a matter of urgency.”
Minister Harris outlined how the Scheme “will bring flood protection to approximately 390 properties (177 residential) currently at risk from what is known as a 100 year flood event, which is the standard level of protection provided. It will also be submitted for Confirmation to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform as is required and both of these processes are going to run in parallel to allow the works to start as soon as possible.”
Bandon business owner Veronica Neville says that “Things could have gone faster but we’re hopeful that Simon Harris and the OPW will award the contract soon so that flood relief works can get started. It’s been a very difficult and trying time but people in Bandon are very resilient and determined that their businesses will not only survive, but thrive.”
Veronica said she was heartened to witness the outpouring of support after the town, which services a wide hinterland, was flooded, in particular by the farming community. “It costs time and money to run pumps and equipment and the farming community did an amazing job in saving sections of the town. Council workers also deserve a lot of credit for the outstanding work they did.”
“There has been so much goodwill…the local community is more united now than ever. After the first flooding, I walked into town and met people who I haven’t seen in years; some drove from as far as Kerry to help with the clean-up.”
“It’s onwards and upwards now for Bandon but we are obviously anxious that things get moving as soon as possible,” she added.
According to Met Eireann, over the last 30 years, rainfall amounts have increased in Ireland by approximately five per cent and there is some evidence of an increase in the number of days with heavy rain in the west and northwest.
“Climate projections for rainfall have greater uncertainty than for temperature, they indicate that overall rainfall amounts in Ireland might decrease slightly, summers are likely to become drier while winters may be wetter especially in the west and north. There are also indications of an increase in the number of very wet days.
These projections, applied to river flows, show an increased risk of winter flooding, an increased risk of short duration ‘flash’ floods and to possible water shortages in summer months due to higher temperatures and lower rainfall. The rise in sea levels will make low lying coastal areas more prone to flooding, especially from storm surges.”
Dr Tom McDermott of the School of Economics and the Environmental Research Institute (ERI) at UCC has examined urban flooding worldwide. “As a society we appear to be overly-exposed to flood risk – there are various reasons why developers and house builders do not take full account of flood risk when deciding where to build. Rising sea levels and more extreme rainfall episodes as a result of climate change will lead to greater flood risk – more frequent flooding of existing flood-prone areas or an expansion of areas at risk.”
“At a minimum, tighter planning restrictions are required to prevent new building on existing flood plains,” he added.
With climate change likely to increase the frequency and intensity of these events it is more important than ever that we find long-term, cost effective solutions that allow us to adapt.
Niall Garvey, CEO Muintir na Tíre, the National Association for Community Development, has commended the work carried out by Community groups in the recent flooding crisis He also added that Muintir na Tíre has been raising flooding issues for some time now and seeking solutions before the current crisis. He said “early in 2015, Muintir na Tíre launched the Save Rural Ireland initiative, in partnership with several other national bodies.”
“One of the first common issues identified by the bodies was that of flooding and its impact on communities. In particular Save Rural Ireland identified the difficulties with insurance cover as being of primary importance to communities. We highlighted the anomaly that the state has spent over €500 million on flood relief works to date producing very successful engineering solutions, yet people are still being refused flood insurance in areas where the problem has been solved.”
“We made a number of recommendations to Government, including that the Memorandum of Understanding with the insurance industry be amended to guarantee insurance cover for homes and businesses in areas where flood prevention measures have been completed by the OPW.”
“Unfortunately it is now too late for some, but we still hope this will be implemented urgently so that people can continue to live in their homes and businesses can continue to operate. Otherwise communities with any history, or even slight future risk, of flooding, face extinction.”