Irish Georgian Society

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The vision of the Irish Georgian Society is to conserve, protect and foster a keen interest and a respect for Ireland’s architectural heritage and decorative arts. These aims are achieved through its scholarly and conservation education programmes, through its support of conservation projects and planning issues, and vitally, through its members and their activities.

IGS submission RE: Lower Lee Cork City Flood Relief Scheme

10.04.2017

Posted by IGS


Re:       Lower Lee Cork City Flood Relief Scheme

The Irish Georgian Society welcomes this opportunity to comment on the Lower Lee Cork City Flood Relief Scheme as part of the on-going public consultation currently being held by the Office of Public Works. 

The Irish Georgian Society is a membership organisation, which encourages and promotes the conservation of distinguished examples of architecture and the allied arts of all periods in Ireland. These aims are achieved through our education programmes, by supporting and undertaking conservation works, publishing original research, planning participation and fundraising. The Society has had a marked and widely acknowledged impact on the conservation of built heritage in the state and has wide experience of the problems associated with the restoration, repair and maintenance of the fabric of historic property.

The Society considers that that the implementation of appropriate flood protection measures is of critical importance to ensuring the long-term conservation and viability of the historic core of the City of Cork. The Society acknowledges that difficult choices will have to be made in choosing the appropriate flood protection measures for the River Lee and that it is inevitable that a balance will have to be struck between the negative impacts of works on the historic built environment and landscape and the positive impacts associated with the management of flooding incidents of the River Lee (including the positive impacts reduced flooding will have on buildings of architectural and cultural heritage importance in Cork City). It is clear that pursuing a “business as usual” approach to the on-going problems associated with the flooding of the River Lee is unsustainable.

However, the Society is concerned about the extent of intervention to the historic quay walls of Cork City Centre proposed under the Lower Lee Cork City Flood Relief Scheme. The removal of original historic fabric and the construction of proposed new structures is likely to result in both a significant negative impact on the architectural heritage of Cork City and a significant change to the character of river corridors. The experience of the Netherlands, considered to be world leaders in flood protection, is particularly instructive. Heavy criticism and strong opposition to intrusive flood defence works in the river area of the Netherlands, which resulted in the demolition of historic buildings and loss of historic character, triggered the establishment of numerous commissions of review (e.g. the Becht Commission in the 1970s and the Boertien Commission in the 1990s) and resulted in several revisions of approach in order to reduce the impacts of reinforcement on, inter alia, the cultural and historical value of the landscape. Intrusive, structural flood protection works in the historic city centres of the Netherlands are notably absent, with an emphasis instead on a system drainage ditches, canals and pumping stations.

While the Society welcomes proposals the repair, cleaning and repointing of historic quay walls, which will result in positive impacts, the Society has serious concerns about the following works proposed under the Lower Lee Cork City Flood Relief Scheme due to the scale of loss of historic fabric and the extent of change to the historic built environment:

·         Removal of low limestone ashlar parapet walls at Grenville Place, Batchelor's Walk, Kyrl's Quay and Coal Quay and replacement with concrete walls, which in some areas will be clad with concrete.

·         Removal of open parapets consisting of nineteenth century cast-iron bollards and horizontal bars and replacing these with concrete walls. This will obstruct the views to the river, which, at some points, are of considerable cultural and historical importance.

·         Removal of open parapets consisting of nineteenth century limestone bollards and horizontal bars and replacing these with concrete and in some places glass walls. This will obstruct the views to the river, which, at some points, are of considerable cultural and historical importance.

·         Removal of modern railings and capping walls and replacing these with concrete walls and railings.

·         Many of the proposed public realm enhancement works, which are at odds with the character of the historic centre of Cork.

Heritage and Ireland’s historic environment is estimated to account for €1.5 billion or 1% of the State’s Gross Value Added (GVA) and some 2% of overall employment (approximately 65,000 employment positions).  The Heritage Council’s 2011 publication Economic Evaluation of the Historic Environment Ireland sets out the following:

‘In addition to the contributions of the historic environment sector 'inner wheel' and built heritage construction components, the historic environment also has a significant impact on people's decisions to visit Ireland.

Fáilte Ireland's Visitor Attractions Survey provides much valuable information on visitor attractions in Ireland and highlights for example that no fewer than 4 of Ireland's top 10 paid admission attractions fall within the strict definition of the historic environment…

While substantial direct expenditure accrues as a consequence of these and other historic environment attractions and sites (including admissions fees and ancillary spend on souvenirs/ retail etc.), on a fundamental level the historic environment also serves as a central motivating factor for wider tourism to and within Ireland…

Notably, results from a recent survey of visitors to Ireland reveal an overwhelming majority alluding to elements of the historic environment as being 'very important' in their consideration of Ireland for a holiday…

In summary:
Including indirect and induced effects, it is estimated that tourism expenditure attributable to the historic environment supports more than 17,000 (17,129) FTE employees in Ireland.

In terms of national income, this translates into an economic impact of approximately €650 (645) million towards Ireland's GVA.’

Proposals set out in the Lower Lee Cork City Flood Relief Scheme for significant structural works along historic quay walls would not seem to be consistent with international best practice for flood protection in and around historic urban cores. The historic centre of Cork is a unique urban landscape, which is the result of centuries of interaction between humans and nature. While it must be acknowledged that the character of the River Lee corridor cannot remain static, works which result in a significant or profound change to the historic character of the river corridor should only be pursued as a last resort in circumstances where there is no other alternative. Moreover, aside from the importance of preserving our cultural heritage for future generations, the importance of the interrelationship between the historic built environment and the historic River Lee corridor to the tourist economy cannot be underestimated. In this regard, it is considered significant that other European countries have achieved successful flood prevention and mitigation along river corridors without the need for the destruction or profound alteration of the historic built environment. The Irish Georgian Society respectfully submits that the Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Lower Lee Cork City Flood Relief Scheme does not clearly identify why there is no other alternative but to remove or alter so much of the historic quay wall in Cork City.

The Society would welcome the opportunity to meet and discuss the issues outlined above. If we can be of any further assistance to this important initiative, please not hesitate to contact us.

(Image: Proviz Creative for OPW)