A €500,000 flood defence scheme for two housing estates in Westport has been approved by local councillors.
Planning for the Cois Abhainn/Ashwood flood defence scheme was franked by councillors at the November meeting of the Westport/Belmullet Municipal District last Tuesday.
The area, on the Ballinrobe Road, had been badly flooded in December 2015 when the nearby Carrowbeg river burst its banks.
Presenting details of the scheme to councillors, Mayo County Council engineer Michael O’Grady explained it had been approved by the OPW in 2019, but had since been delayed by Covid.
A preliminary design for the scheme has been created, and the properties that need protecting have been identified. While a precise cost has yet to be determined, the ‘ballpark’ figure is €500,000.
A 75-metre-long and 1.7-metre-high wall will be constructed to protect six properties in Cois Abhainn, while a 170-metre-long, 1.1-metre-high earth embankment will protect 30 properties in Ashwood. The properties in Cois Abhainn have been deemed to be at a greater risk.
The flood defences will be ‘eight to nine metres’ back from the river’s edge. There are three reasons for this, O’Grady explained. One is to allow space for the existing and proposed riverside walkway; the second is to prevent any environmental impact on the river, which flows into the Clew Bay Special Area of Conservation; the final reason is to reduce the impact downstream of any flooding.
In response to a submission from a local resident, Mr O’Grady said the combination of a wall and an embankment was chosen as the ‘best fit’ in terms of the space available, in order to minimise the potential environmental impacts and ensure the best benefit-cost ratio.
He added that the existing river walk will not be protected by the flood defence scheme, as it is not deemed essential infrastructure.
Cllr Christy Hyland welcomed the developments but said the delays had been frustrating.
“I can’t understand why it took so long. Residents are very concerned, and it has caused a lot of stress and sleepless nights. There will be delight in those homes with this news,” he said.
Questions were also raised about the granting of planning permission for the housing developments at Cois Abhainn and Ashwood.
“The one thing that should be clear to all of us is the long-term dangers of building in locations in flood zones,” said Cllr Peter Flynn (FG).
“This is a perfect example where, in reality, if we were doing this planning application, I’d be fairly certain the scale of the development would not have been allowed.
“The reality is the taxpayer is going to pay the price for allowing development to happen in a flood zone. I know hindsight can be a marvellous thing, but when people are critical of planners and councillors and everyone else in terms of planning, I think it is important to remember that there is a consequence when you do have development in the wrong locations.”
Cllr Flynn’s comments were echoed by Cllr John O’Malley (Ind).
“I couldn’t believe planning was given there; that was on a pure, wet bog. It is amazing how well the project came out, but to think you’re going to spend €500,000 to help is mind boggling really. That’s money that could be spent elsewhere for some other project that’s really needed. The estate is there and we have to take care of the people who are in it,” he said.
Mr O’Grady said that now planning has been approved, the detailed design stage will commence in January. Mayo County Council hopes to invite tenders in ‘April or May’ and hopes to have a contractor appointed in June or July. He added that the council hopes to have the project ‘substantially complete’ by the end of 2022.