Some 46,000 properties in Northern Ireland are at risk from flooding – and half of them have no proper protection against it.
hat's according to the new, official flood maps being published today by the Rivers Agency, which highlight the areas of the province most vulnerable to flooding.
The sophisticated interactive maps – which have been obtained exclusively by the Belfast Telegraph and are now available online – contain the most detailed information ever published with regard to flood risk here.
As a result, they will enable every business and homeowner in Northern Ireland – where clean-up costs from a domestic flooding event are now averaging £20,000 a time – to assess the level of risk to their individual properties.
For many, the risk will be negligible – but others could see their insurance premiums affected by the information provided.
The interactive maps – a mandatory requirement under the EU Floods Directive – are the product of detailed analysis of 69 areas of Northern Ireland.
That includes 20 hotspots at "significant flood risk", with the other 49 deemed by experts as being locations "for further investigation". Properties in coastal and river basin areas are, naturally, at most risk, but many urban areas remain vulnerable to flash flooding.
Official figures from the Rivers Agency show that 46,000 properties here are at risk of flooding from rivers and the sea, with some currently benefiting from flood alleviation measures such as flood walls, culverts or coastal sea defences. However, 23,000 of those have no protection in place, according to the agency's director of development David Porter.
Northern Ireland has had several severe flooding incidents in the last few years, notably the flash flooding across greater Belfast (June 2012), widespread flooding across eastern and western regions (October 2011), protracted flooding over 40 days in Co Fermanagh (November 2009), street and out-of-sewer flooding in Belfast (August 2009) and, of course, the epic deluge of August 2008, when the M2 motorway had to be closed.
Indeed, since 2007 some 4,500 properties have suffered flood damage in Northern Ireland – and around 500 of them were subjected to repeat flooding.
Mr Porter, said that around £60m of public money is currently being spent every year protecting property against flooding.
"The events that we've had over the past 10 years show that it's predominantly the east of the province that is most vulnerable," said Mr Porter. "In particular, places like Antrim, south Belfast and east Belfast have been subject to repeated flooding.
"East Belfast flooded about three times in the last six years, while August 2008 brought as big and as widespread an event that anyone can remember."
He added: "Our biggest concern would be Belfast purely because of the density of housing, the type and nature of economic activity, the rail and road network links and the negative impact that would have in financial terms."
The new flood maps add a significant level of information to the Strategic Flood Maps which were first published in 2008, which provided an indication of the general areas throughout Northern Ireland that may be prone to flooding from rivers and the sea.
An update in 2011 included surface water flooding information, but the new maps provide considerably more detail on flood risk areas, including information on flood depth, velocity and level.
Mr Porter stressed that, although the latest maps are more refined and sophisticated, it doesn't mean that more property owners are at risk or that the risk of flooding has increased.
But he added: "Now there is information that people don't have to search for and pay for; a professional will be able to interpret it for them so it'll cut down the cost of flood risk assessments."
- To view the interactive maps, log on to: www.dardni.gov.uk/rivers