25 November, 2009

Flooding, planning and climate change

Cold, wet and windy in Dún Laoghaire today.

That's the view looking out from the Coal Harbour in Dún Laoghaire on a blustery afternoon. At least we're fortunate enough not to be flooded, or have the roof blown off as has happened with the unfortunate residents in Carrickmines Manor on Glenamuck Road. Thankfully no-one appears to have been injured. Hazel Melbourne said she felt like she was in a scene from the Wizard of Oz when she saw the roof fly past her second floor apartment at 8.30am. according to the Irish Times website.

The floods in the south and west sound appalling. Our own home was flooded several years ago when our youngest was only a few weeks old and we had to escape over the back garden wall and pass the children to helpful Gardaí on higher ground. That brutal combination of damp, fear, destruction and uncertainty for all those affected by flooding can be soul-destroying. I'm glad to say that the Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea told me today that he's instructed the Army's Chief of Staff to ensure that troops will help with the initial household clean-up as well as the emergency works prior to, and during flooding.

The National Flood Hazard mapping website was set up after the floods back in 2002 and provides information about places that are at risk from flooding. The OPW's Flooding website also contains a lot of useful information, particularly on practical information if you're currently at risk (and have access to the web).

I'm still not convinced though that there's enough joined up thinking between planning authorities and the OPW. Minister John Gormley has brought forward the draft "Planning System and Flood Risk Management Guidelines", but the stable door had been left open long before.

There's been far too many images on the news in the last few days of recently built buildings under water. This week's floods may not be due to climate change according to Paul Cunningham's Tweet referencing UCD Professor of Meteorology Ray Bates. as the North Atlantic is apparently experiencing a cooling period. That doesn't take away the higher air temperatures that increased rainfall, though. Regardless of this week's weather, Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele's pointed out last night in his excellent EPA sponsored lecture in the Mansion House that the risk of extreme weather events is set to increase, and that's a good reason to do something about climate change. He is the Head of Climatology and Environmental Sciences, University Catholique de Louvain, and is also the vice-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, so he should know!

IFA President Padraig Walshe has been hitting out at Government spending millions of euro on flood defences, saying the money would be bettter spent on drainage. Actually, I'd feel that more money should be spent on encouraging 'soakage', rather than drainage as this can reduce the risk of flash flooding. More forestry can also absorb high rainfall before it sluices into rivers, and that's what Trevor Sargent is working on through the new Programme for Government. One thing is certain though: the unprecedented levels of development over the last decade resulted in more concrete, tarmacadam and other impermeable land surfaces, and that has contributed to the floods.

Good planning is an important tool that can be used to tackle the increased risk of flooding, and is an issue I've raised before. It's something that our Councillors in Bray -Ciaran O'Brian, Caroline Burrell and Deirdre de Burca used to challenge the rezoning of the flood plain in Bray beside the River Dargle when a combination of councillors from Labour, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail voted to rezone the Bray Golf Course lands. Ciaran O'Brian is currently challenging the planning application on the rezoned lands at An Bord Pleanála.

Meanwhile Bill Nolan is worried about John Gormley's plans to place a windfall tax of 80% on rezoned lands. We see it as a way of implementing the recommendations of the Kenny Report on Building land some thirty-five years after its publication. Mr. Nolan writes that that implications for the banking, property and planning industry may be far reaching. So they should be. Phil HoganTD from Fine Gael speaking at a meeting of Carlow County Council's Strategic Policy Committee has described John's proposals as "social engineering at its worst" and went on state:"I am sure the Minister means well but it reminds me of Soviet dictators."

Phil, business as usual is not an option. The laissez-faire approach that the two major parties have espoused has contributed significantly to the poor quality of development and planning that has left thousands of families flooded over the last week.

The Green Party is working hard in government to raise the bar for planning and development, and to tackle climate change. No-one ever said it would be easy.

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