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In 2002, Clontarf was badly flooded following mammoth high tides which caused destruction to homes and businesses in the area.
Almost a decade later, in November 2011, then Assistant City Manager Seamus Lyons wrote that the area was still at risk of flooding.
“We all agree that flood defences in coastal areas are essential,” he said at the time.
“However, there is little point in investing in such defences if they are so low that they are not going to prevent the sea from flooding houses and properties.”
Flash forward almost another decade to the present, and council officials were all set to give a presentation to local councillors in March showing their latest ideas on how to solve the long-running dispute over the need for walls, and the desire for views.
That meeting was cancelled because of social-distancing rules. But the presentation is back on the agenda for the next meeting of councillors for the North Central Area, which is scheduled for 18 May.
For six years, residents associations, local businesses and council officials have been meeting on a joint working group to try to progress the flood defences in Clontarf.
But there still isn’t agreement on the joint working group on how high those barriers should be, says Fianna Fáil Councillor, Deirdre Heney.
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council says the new presentation does not amount to a new plan for the area. It is information from a study carried out by the council “which has identified the heights and locations of defences to provide the best flood protection”, they said.
A Running Saga
On another part of Clontarf Road, the flood defences proved controversial.
In 2015, the council built a wall as a flood defence, on a 500-metre section of the road, opposite St Anne’s Park.
After complaints that the wall blocked the view of the sea, the council agreed in 2018 to spend €230,000 to lower that wall again.
But that stretch of wall only defended one small part of the Clontarf seafront. A larger flood defence project for the rest of the promenade had been on the back-burner until recently.
In 2011, the council had worked up detailed plans for the defences, including walls in some parts and natural-looking hills in others. But in December 2011, councillors voted against that.
A day-long mediated discussion in 2012 didn’t prove fruitful either. In February 2013, a working group was set up with residents, businesses, and council managers.
In 2015, environmental commentator Frank McDonald said that Dublin City Council should look at glass barriers used in Waterford, which protect people and property while also preserving sea views.
Heney, the Fianna Fáil councillor, says that about nine months ago all six local councillors joined the joint working group and they are keen to push the project forward.
“The [Office of Public Works] says we definitely need defences. It is not a matter of if, but when, there will be a perfect storm,” she says.
The Latest Chapter
In its latest presentation, the council proposes building defences along the 2,867 metres of the promenade that is currently unprotected, running from the Wooden Bridge to where the estuary ends at the Alfie Byrne Road.
The proposed defences would be made up of two separate barriers – one at the seafront and a secondary defence along the footpath on the side of the road.
The defences would dip and rise to different heights at points along the promenade.
According to the presentation, the proposed defences would not usually go higher than 1.2 metres, or roughly 4 foot. Some parts, though, need higher defences and then extendable barriers could be raised when necessary, it says.
The extendable barrier is called a “demountable” defence and according to the council plans they could be used at several different locations, on the footpath barrier, rather than the seafront.
In normal weather, those parts of the defences would not exceed 1.2 metres, meaning locals can still enjoy their seafront view, then the extension could be raised to protect the area during higher tides.
“There is a need to build a flood defence in Clontarf to protect a significant number of commercial premises and the homes of citizens to national standards,” says a spokesperson for Dublin City Council.
The presentation is the result of a study that the council conducted and does not constitute a new plan for the area, they said.
A lot more information will be provided to councillors when they meet and they will have a chance to ask questions then too. “It is critically important that this presentation is viewed in context,” said the spokesperson.
Almost everyone agrees that flood defences are needed, says Heney of Fianna Fáil. But as for the height and the design of those, there is still no agreement, she says.
The height needs to be agreed first, she says – there’s no point in talking about the design until that’s sewn up.
Those defences need not necessarily be a wall. There are lots of examples of innovative designs that can be used, says Heney.
Green Party Councillor Donna Cooney says there are some problems with the demountable barriers.
She queries whether the council would need to know in advance that a storm is coming to raise them and whether that is realistic. If they need to be automated that could be expensive, she says.
Eilis O’Brien, a local resident and community representative, says that locals are supportive of Dublin City Council and they understand what the council is trying to do.
“Everybody recognises the need for flood defences,” she says. “But it must also allow for the preservation of the promenade.”
To preserve the promenade you have to preserve the environment and the biosphere, including the Brent Geese that nest in the estuary, she says.
The Clontarf promenade “is a very important environmental structure within the city”, says O’Brien. It is also an important amenity for Dublin and attracts walkers from other parts of the city, she says.
Designing A Way Forward
The previous plans proposed by the council in 2011 weren’t acceptable because the height of the defences meant that people walking on the path couldn’t be seen from the road, which would make it dangerous, says O’Brien.
That issue remains a problem, she says.
Residents have done their own modelling and if the defence is higher than 0.8 metres, walkers on the prom will not be visible from the road, she says. That means no passive surveillance and the area would not be safe to walk in at night.
In the Netherlands, the government has used innovative designs including demountable barriers that are triggered by floodwater, she says.
Those solutions are expensive, says O’Brien. But given it’s an important amenity in the capital city, perhaps there should be more money from central government or the European Union for it, she says.
Residents groups and the council aren’t on the same page yet, says O’Brien. “If they get stuck on insisting that a wall height has to be 1.2m at the highest point, that is simply too high.”
Instead, she would like to see the project put out to tender for the design to see what engineers might propose instead.
“You could look to really good public-realm designers to come back to us with ideas,” she says.