I expressed concern at the protracted time scale for the project scheduled for completion in 2029

The Minister, Deputy Foley, is welcome. I am disappointed the Minister of State, Deputy O’Donovan, is not present but I appreciate the Minister, Deputy Foley, being here to answer my question on flood defences in Galway city. I am sure that in every county there are incidents of flooding in towns or rural areas and I am sure the Minister has visited scenes of helplessness either in the aftermath of or during a flood. It is very difficult for residents or businesses that are dealing with a surge of water and wondering when the day will come that it will not happen again.

As all present are aware, climate change and global warming are increasing the unpredictability of storms. Galway suffers from flooding from the River Corrib, high tides, storm surges, wave overlapping and storm water drains. In conjunction with Galway City Council, the Office of Public Works has funded studies under the catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, programme, relating to mapping exercises of the area. The previous Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW, Kevin Boxer Moran, announced an allocation of more than €9 million for flood defences. Since then, Arup consultant engineers have been appointed to progress the project and further the identification and development of a preferred scheme. We were told that will take approximately 24 months, which will bring us up to the end of 2023. Planning and development consent will take approximately 18 months, which will bring us up to early 2025, while detailed construction, design and tender will take approximately eight months, bringing us to early 2026. Construction will take up to 36 months, which will overlap with the handover of works that will take approximately 15 months. That will bring us up to the end of 2029 before the works in Galway city will be completed. With the way things are, one could add another year or two to that, depending on processes.

Realistically, can anything be done to speed up that project? There are important requirements under the public spending code, but is there anything that the city council or the Arup consultants can do to speed up that process? Taking, effectively, the guts of a decade before flood defences will be in place in Galway city is too long. I refer to processes around the country. I note the Minister of State, Deputy O’Donovan, has expressed his frustration at the processes and the delays, whether due to planning, judicial review or anything else. In the meantime, the city of Galway is at the mercy of water and the unpredictability of storms. The impact that has on residents and businesses is so distressing and frustrating. I look forward to the reply of the Minister on behalf of the Office of Public Works. Realistically, is there anything that can be done to speed up the process?

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley)

I thank the Senator. I will read into the record the reply that has been provided by the Minister of State, Deputy O’Donovan, on the issue raised by the Senator. I appreciate the importance and significance of this issue for the people of Galway. I am pleased to provide an update on the Coirib go Cósta – Galway City Flood Relief Scheme.

Galway City Council, as project sponsor and contracting authority, is leading the development of the Coirib go Cósta – Galway City Flood Relief Scheme for the city, with technical advice and funding being provided by the Office of Public Works. Following a tender process undertaken by the city council, an engineering and environmental consultant was appointed in November 2020 to review and build on the initial proposals in the flood risk management plan, which were developed, as the Senator noted, under the CFRAM programme.

The objective of the Coirib go Cósta project is to assess, design and deliver a viable, cost-effective and environmentally sustainable flood relief scheme for Galway city. The Coirib go Cósta – Galway City Flood Relief Scheme has a preliminary total project budget estimate of €9.5 million and has the objective of protecting more than 940 properties from tidal and river flooding. Among the areas of Galway city that will be protected are the Long Walk, Spanish Arch, Eglinton Canal, Merchants Quay, Raven Terrace, Salthill and the Claddagh. The project website, http://www.coiribgocosta.ie, provides up-to-date information to those interested in the progress of the scheme.

The project name, Coirib go Cósta – Galway City Flood Relief Scheme, was developed to give the project a sense of identity and place. The title and logo, which appears on the website, identify the link to both river and sea which are part of the fabric of Galway city. The logo includes visuals of Galway cathedral and the Galway hooker to ensure the unique character of the city is central to the project and signifies how the project aims to promote and protect this character.

The scheme has been broken into five distinct stages with indicative timelines, subject to no major technical, planning or legal challenges arising. Indeed, the Senator referred to that. Stage 1 is the options assessment and scheme development. The options assessment and development stage has an estimated completion date of mid-2023. The project is currently at stage 1. Stage 2 is planning and consent. This is when the preparation and submission of planning documentation to An Bord Pleanála will be undertaken, along with the completion of all required environmental assessments and consents. This stage has an estimated completion date of early 2025. Stage 3 is the detailed design and tender process. The detailed design of the preferred scheme will be completed in stage 3, followed by the procurement of contractors for the construction of the scheme. It is estimated that this stage will be completed by late 2025. Stage 4 is scheme construction. The construction stage of the scheme is estimated to take approximately two and a half years and is estimated to run from early 2026 to mid-2028. Stage 5 is handover and completion and is estimated to be finalised in mid-2029.

As stated, the project is currently at stage 1 where options development and initial scheme development take place. Work to date on this stage has consisted of collection and review of available data relating to the scheme and study area, for example, historical flood data, CFRAM data, Irish Water data and Galway City Council data, and additional data collection in the form of surveys. These surveys include invasive species, threshold levels, a wave overtopping study, culverts and drainage, hydrometric gauges and surveys of existing flood defences. The hydrological method statement is currently being finalised. This will form the basis for the hydrological design and hydraulic modelling required for the scheme. Significant work has also been undertaken on stakeholder and public engagement.

A scheme-specific communications strategy has been developed to ensure best practice is implemented for stakeholder and public engagement throughout the project. The opening public engagement process has already been undertaken, beginning on 1 June and finishing on 7 July 2021. This event was widely advertised and was held online due to current Covid-19 restrictions.

I have a quite in-depth reply. Do I have the opportunity to continue?

Acting Chairperson (Senator Sharon Keogan)

Perhaps you could provide it to Senator Kyne because I can see there are a number of pages to go.

Deputy Norma Foley

I will ensure that the Senator gets the reply. However, from my experience in my county, I appreciate the importance of projects of this nature and also the importance of speed, as the Senator outlined. I understand that, so I will certainly communicate that to the Minister of State.

Senator Seán Kyne

I thank the Minister for the response. I will take this up again with the Minister of State, Deputy O’Donovan. I appreciate the timeline, the work that Galway City Council is doing and the information provided on the Coirib go Cósta website, but it is frustrating. It is quite clear that this project will take the guts of a decade to complete, which is hard to believe and fathom given that it is so important. The city council is on standby to install buffers to prevent flooding, with temporary inflatable devices to prevent the overlapping of the Corrib. The city can be on tenterhooks on occasions when there is a yellow storm warning that might coincide with high tide, so it is very worrying for residents and businesses. However, there is no quick fix unless the entire process can be streamlined.

Deputy Norma Foley

As the Senator and the general public can appreciate, there has to be a staged process, which is an important process in terms of delivery. However, I appreciate the urgency that is necessary to benefit the immediate difficulty that people are experiencing. I will communicate that to the Minister of State.