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Flood relief scheme is mooted for town at 'significant risk'

By Linda Stewart

Published 09/02/2016

Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill
Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill

The town of Downpatrick is at significant risk of both coastal and river flooding, Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill has warned.

The minister warned last night that Market Street, Ballyduggan Road and Church Street are all at risk.

The Rivers Agency is planning to look at whether a flood alleviation scheme to reduce the risk in the Co Down town would stack up financially.

Responding to an Assembly question from South Down MLA Jim Wells, the minister said the latest flood risk assessment for Downpatrick and the measures planned to manage the risk are outlined in the North Eastern Flood Risk Management Plan.

"Rivers Agency plans to carry out a feasibility study to identify if a flood alleviation scheme to reduce the risk of flooding is cost beneficial," Ms O'Neill said.

"These studies will involve the co-operation and input of Transport NI and NI Water.

"Should a study identify an economically viable engineering solution, this will be subject to competing priorities and the availability of resources. "The considerable number of the properties at risk of flooding within the Downpatrick area are small businesses.

"It should be noted that I intend to extend the Homeowners Property Protection Scheme to small businesses subject to a business case being approved. This may provide the owners of these businesses, who may not benefit from an overall county level flood alleviation scheme, with financial and technical assistance to make their properties more resistant to flooding."

Bartley Murphy, who owns Murphy's Bar in the town, said the premises have flooded repeatedly, costing him around £200,000 in clean-up bills over the last 10 years. He claimed that the street floods because the capacity of the sewage system appears to be exceeded.

"When you have heavy flooding, it's not just rainwater -it's raw sewage mixed up with it," he said.

"If there is any flooding at all, we normally get it, as we are at the lowest point in the whole of Market Street," he said.

Noel Traynor, who owns a dry-cleaning business, says this is the first year in a long time when his premises haven't flooded.

"There has been a new scheme done recently - a new holding tank and pumping station were installed. There hasn't been any flooding here throughout what has been a very wet winter," he said. "It would tend to be flash flooding, rather than heavy, persistent rain."

DUP MLA Jim Wells said a cost benefit analysis of plans for a flood alleviation scheme will tend to ignore intangibles such as the stress of small business owners facing having to clear up and restock over and over again.

He warned that a cost benefit analysis will also have to take future climate change into account.

"What we have to accept is that climate change is with us. A lot of very extreme weather situations are predicted and all of it will have an impact on Downpatrick," he said. "This is the commercial core of the town. Flooding is very much a risk and will become more of a risk. It is a problem that will emerge time and time again."

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