Friday, October 14, 2011

Raising the Clontarf Flood Defences under Topical Issues

ROLLING UPDATES: Clontarf Flood Defences

Aodhán: I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise a local issue, namely the proposed Clontarf flood barrier, which will have a citywide impact.

In September 2005, Dublin City Council’s Clontarf promenade steering committee considered different options for the flood defence-arterial water main works and chose option 5, comprising walls and bunds containing water mains. No public representatives, residents' groups or business groups were represented on this committee. However, the environmental impact statement, EIS, states the main stakeholders were present. The minutes of the meeting indicate that council officials realised, even at that point, the need to provide clear images and drawings for the public consultation process. This recommendation was not pursued, however.

A consultation evening was held in St. Anthony's Parish Church in Clontarf on 12 June 2006 to deal with the scope of the information to be included in the EIS. Residents' groups were invited to the meeting. According to a council e-mail of Tuesday, 11 October 2006, the public consultation process on the flood defences-arterial water mains did not commence until 3 December 2007. Accordingly, this meeting cannot be considered to have been part of that process. Indeed, the EIS had not even been completed at that stage.

In November 2007, all residents' groups were written to informing them that Dublin City Council was about to apply to An Bord Pleanála for planning permission through the submission of an EIS, as yet unseen by residents, businesses or local representatives. The letter also informed them a period of public consultation would take place and that full details of the project would be on public display for eight weeks in Dublin City Council’s civic office, Marino library, none of which are in the Clontarf area itself, and on the council’s website. On 3 December 2007, this submission and public consultation was further advertised in the Irish Independent and this date was the commencement of the public consultation period.

One day later, on 4 December 2007, Dublin City Council applied to An Bord Pleanála for permission for the works as outlined in the EIS and first advertised to the public one day previously. Subsequently, in July 2008 planning permission was granted by An Bord Pleanála.

There is no evidence of any involvement of either public representatives, residents or local businesses, prior to a decision being made in September 2005, that the preferred option for the works was for bunds-walls rather than four other options under consideration. Although the council has accepted the height recommendation changed after plans were first presented to local councillors in 2006, this was not communicated and no supplemental presentation was made detailing the alterations or the reasons held by the council for departing from the original proposal.
Prior to the planning application being made to An Bord Pleanála in December 2007, no public representatives or residents groups had sight of a completed environmental impact statement, EIS, or had an opportunity to provide feedback or comment on it. The EIS was made available on 3 December - the application was made to An Bord Pleanála on 4 December. As a result, the only opportunity these stakeholders had to make an input into the process was that afforded them by the An Bord Pleanála system at a cost of €50. Although the EIS was made available after the application had been made to An Bord Pleanála, it was never available at any public location in Clontarf. My point is that the process was deficient from the beginning.

I wish to bring the Minister of State's attention to another matter. The development is in close proximity to a number of special protection areas and a special area of conservation, namely, north Dublin Bay. I direct the Minister of State to Article 6(3) of the habitats directive and the guidance provided by the Commission, those being, EC (2000), EC (2002) and EC (2006). Any plan or project that may have a significant effect on a special area of conservation shall be subject to an appropriate assessment of its implications for the site in view of the site's conservation objectives. This appropriate assessment should include, where appropriate, obtaining the opinion of the general public and must comply with the requirements as set forth by the directive and clarified by the Commission's guidance notes and the European Court of Justice, ECJ, cases C-127/02 and C-418/04.

The EIS on the works in question does not comply with the requirements of the directive and relevant explanatory documents, since no appropriate assessment was undertaken. In taking the decision under An Bord Pleanála reference 29N.JA0008, the competent authority - Dublin City Council - has failed to take account of the appropriate assessment of the implications of the development for the designated Natura 2000 site in light of the site's conservation objectives and has not made certain that the development will not affect the integrity of the site.

Like the council, will the Minister of State accept that the consultation process was deficient? Will he accept the documentation that I will provide him for his officials to examine? Will his officials examine the relevant European legislation and the ECJ cases I have outlined? Will the Minister of State engage with the Irish Insurance Federation, IIF, to ensure that the question of these works proceeding or not proceeding in the immediate future will not have a negative impact on householders on the Clontarf promenade?

Deputy Brian Hayes: I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. I know the area well, having played there as a young boy before going to the west side of the city. I also know of people's concerns, but I must point out that this is a Dublin City Council scheme. The objective of the Office of Public Works, OPW, which has national responsibility for providing policy and funding, is to work with local authorities in the delivery of such schemes.

I will set out the facts. The Clontarf sea front area was identified as one of the areas most at risk of flooding in the Dublin coastal flood protection project study, which was completed in 2005 by international expert consultants Royal Haskoning and commissioned by Dublin City Council with funding from the OPW. Following the study's completion, Dublin City Council appointed Royal Haskoning to design a flood relief scheme for the area. The scheme was designed to the normal standards required for coastal flood protection, including protection against a flood with an annual exceedance probability of 0.5%, typically known as a 200-year flood event, with an allowance for climate change.

The OPW understands that Dublin City Council made available full details of the flood defence project to residents, local businesses and elected representatives at the various informal and formal public consultations in 2006 and 2007 leading up to the submission of a full EIS to An Bord Pleanála in 2007. The submission was also advertised in the national press, site notices were erected and the project details and EIS report were put on public display in the council's civic offices and in Marino Library. The EIS took full account of all aspects of the project, including the visual impact of the flood defence structures. The EIS and the project were subsequently approved by An Bord Pleanála in 2008.

Dublin City Council has since advanced the scheme as part of the north city water main project. The procurement process for the overall scheme, which includes the north city water supply scheme phases 1 and 2 and the flood defence works, has been progressed as one contract for reasons of efficiency and economies of cost. The OPW has agreed in principle to provide the funding to undertake the flood defence aspects of the works, amounting to approximately 46% of the overall costs. This is Dublin City Council's scheme, not the Government's. We provide the money for schemes and set national policy frameworks.

This scheme incorporates the use of landscaping rather than extensive wall construction. This is designed to minimise the impact and, in so far as it is possible, retain the character of the Clontarf sea front. The council accepts that there will be a loss of visual amenity. Without this project, however, the area will continue to flood, which the Deputy knows it has done frequently.

I understand that, in response to concerns raised by residents and members of the business community in recent weeks, Dublin City Council made a presentation to a special meeting of councillors of the north central area committee yesterday afternoon. At that meeting, the council agreed to arrange meetings with the residents for next week with a further area committee to take place on 7 November. The OPW had a member of staff at the meeting who explained that the rationale for the OPW providing funding for the scheme was based on the scheme being cost beneficial and that it would conform to the normal standards applying to such coastal schemes. The OPW awaits the outcome of the further consultation process

Aodhán: I thank the Minister of State for his reply, although the matters it addressed differed from those that I raised. Will he accept the documentation? If I forward it to his Department, will he ask his officials to investigate under section 21 of the Planning and Development Act on An Bord Pleanála whether every statutory box was ticked in respect of the consultation process? Will his office also take into consideration the European legislation to which I referred? I will forward it to his office and to other Ministers with responsibility in this regard. Will the Minister of State take into consideration the insurance implications of these works going ahead or not going ahead and engage with the IIF? If his office commits to doing so, it would provide solace to the residents and wider community affected. These are three simple suggestions and I appreciate the Ceann Comhairle's indulgence.

Deputy Brian Hayes: The suggestions are good, but they will not make any difference. The key issue is that this is a Dublin City Council scheme. The council is looking for money from us. To obtain that, it must show that the State will get value for the money we spend. We are prepared to consider any alternative arising from the consultation with local councillors last night and with residents next week. If the council makes an alternative proposal, we are prepared to consider it.

The only criterion we have when an application is made is whether it is worth spending money. There is no point in spending money if it has no value when an event occurs. All of the EU legislation in the world will not make a difference. This is a question of getting value for the State's money. If an alternative proposal is brought to our attention by the council, we will consider it.

We have set money aside for the scheme. If it is not spent this year, I cannot guarantee the people of Clontarf that it will be spent next year. If a flooding event occurs, I ask people to realise that the houses, businesses and communities along the long Clontarf Road will suffer the brunt of it.

The only way to stop the floods is to build a wall or a variety of other schemes that may help. We are open to considering all alternatives, but time is of the essence. Given the fact that we are not the party conducting this process, our task is to fund something if it has value and will stop a flood. Otherwise, the money will not be provided. The next time a flood occurs, Deputies will ask me why we did not do something.

Dublin City Council must sort this issue out with the local community and local councillors in the first instance. Assuming it does, I will consider any alternative proposal. We have a clear model on which we determine cost-benefit analyses. If an alternative delivers value for the State's investment, we will consider it and progress the scheme. I hope I have been fair, honest and forthcoming in responding to the Deputy.