Neglect of the Dargle River
years of promises
After every flood that Little Bray has experienced, politicians have promised: 'It will never happen again'. Yet recurring neglect of vital maintenance and repairs to the Dargle River continues to this day, and responsibility for it is buried in bureaucracy.
Many local residents have fought and pleaded with their Council to take the necessary steps to ensure that whatever measures are necessary to contain the Dargle River in times of heavy rain and high tides are taken.
Herbert Wright, who lives in Coburg Estate, at the western end of the flood basin of Little Bray, is one of them...
There is a drop of some 6 feet from the back of the Wright's garden to the Dargle River - at normal times. But in November, 2000, the river rose to such a level that residents of Coburg, and indeed of Seapoint Court, at the eastern extreme of the flood plain, feared they were about to experience the floods of 1986 all over again. For both these estates, '86 was their first flood.
Herbert started his letter writing campaign in 2001, with a neighbour whose back garden is backing on to the Wright's - Shay Ryan - and whose home in River Lane was destroyed both in 1965 and in 1986.
On 8th September, 2001, Herbert and Shirley Wright of Coburg, and Shay Ryan of River Lane wrote to Cllrs. Pat Vance (FF) and Brian Kenny (Independent); the present Minister for the Environment, Dick Roche, who had a fine history of fighting both local authorities and Government for flood protection works for the Dargle community as a County councillor, Senator, and TD; and the Town Clerk and Town Engineer, as follows:-
'We are compelled to write formally to you regarding the potential danger to our homes from the likelihood of the Dargle River flooding in this area.
'Fourteen years ago, following 'Hurrican Charlie', works were carried out to the river bed - both to widen and deepen. Since then, other than a somewhat ineffective 'trimming' of trees, etc., on the river banks last year, no follow-up/ongoing action has been taken.
'We are advised that there is serious build-up in the river - witness November 2000 when the water level came perilously high, at which time UDC officials actually, we believe, went on river watch.
'The UDC and Wicklow County Council have a Statutory Duty to exercise their respective functions through their officers to carry out such works as are reasonably necessary to protect and preserve the public and private properties in the relevant area. Failure to do so, we are advised, renders both the local authorities and their officials absolutely liable for any loss/damage suffered as a result of such neglect/breach of Statutory Duty.
'Please take this letter as a formal demand to instigate such actions as are appropriate re the Dargle River to protect our homes. We would expect an advice of the UDC proposals within the next twenty-one days.
'On behalf of the undernamed and myself, I look forward to hearing from you.'
On 11th September, 2001, Thomas Murphy, Town Clerk, responded to the above letter, saying that he had referred a copy of the letter to Mr. Michael Geaney, Acting Town Engineer, and requested a report on the matter from him.
Mr. Murphy followed this with a letter to the Secretary of the Office of Public Works, dated 17th September, enclosing an answer he had received almost six months earlier to a request for a meeting with the Minister of the Environment and Local Government to discuss Phase II of the Dargle River Flood Protection Scheme
On 27th March, 2001, Michael McLoughlin of the Water Services Section of the Department of the Environment and Local Government had written, on behalf of the Minister that he understood that the first phase of the Flood Protection Scheme, involving improvement to existing flood defences, excavation of the river channel and the building of new defences, was "substantially/effectively completed in 1992, and restored the channel capacity to its state prior to the 1986 flood".
He went on to say that: "the second phase of the recommended works was designed to increase the Dargle channel capacity by a factor of one and a half", but that, while Contract Documents were submitted for Phase 2, the Department was "unable to give a specific undertaking that the documents would be approved, or that funding would be provided for the work".
"Flood relief, under the Water Services Investment Programme, is addressed only in the context of measures to relieve surcharging of existing drainage networks in built up areas", he continued, and stated that the work proposed did not fall into this category. "Moreover, this Department's primary concern in relation to flooding is to ensure that, when adverse conditions arise, local authorities are geared to respond promptly and effectively to help offset the worst effects in relation to those aspects for which they have direct responsibility."
He went on to say: "While local authorities are empowered under the Local Authorities (Works) Act, 1949, to execute works affording relief or protection from flooding, the Department has no substantive involvement by way of grant assistance or otherwise with these provisions".
Finally, he placed the responsibility firmly in the hands of the Office of Public Works: "Under the Arterial Drainage Acts, in particular the 1995 Act, the Office of Public Works is empowered to undertake drainage schemes in response to flooding from any watercourse for the purpose of preventing or substantially reducing incidences of flooding. The Office of Public Works has primary responsibility for devising and implementing flood relief measures and provides local authorities with whatever support is requested in carrying out their responsibilities to relieve flooding. It seems appropriate that the proposals envisaged under the above proposed scheme would now be addressed to the Office of Public Works".
Thomas Murphy's September letter to the Secretary of the Office of Public Works stated that: "The issue of Phase II of the Dargle River Flood Protection Scheme is one that has been raised at Council meetings on an ongoing basis. In the light of the attached letter" .... "the members have requested that a report be obtained from the Office of Public Works on the status of this project."
Deputy Dick Roche also responded - on 5th October - to Mr. Wright, saying that he had been in touch with both the County and Urban District councils regarding "the position on the Dargle".
"In both cases", he continued, "I have pointed out the fears which exist regarding the possbility of renewed flooding. I have asked that there should be an inspection of all riverbanks and clearance work where there is any sign of obstruction. I have also asked the Council to examine the question of silting in the river and, finally, I have asked the Council to carry out an examination of undermining of the riverbank in the vicinity of Coburg and I have asked them to carry out immediate remedial work that is necessary."
On 8th October, the Wrights and Shay Ryan again wrote to the Town Clerk, saying that they presumed that the Acting Town Engineer would have reported during the past month, and asking for an urgent reply.
Mr. Wright also wrote to Dick Roche again on 14th October, "looking forward to hearing from" him by the end of that month. He received a reply the next day, enclosing a letter from the County Council "in response to representations which I have made on your behalf". Deputy Roche also assured Mr. Wright that he would "continue to press the Council on this matter until it is resolved".
The enclosed "response to representations" was from A/County Secretary, Liam Fitzpatrick, dated 10th October, and acknowledged Deputy Roche's letter, informing him that it had been passed onto the Council's Road Section "who will correspond directly with you".
Mr. Wright then received letters from Deputy Roche dated 7th, 13th and 27th November, identical (word for word) to that dated 15th October.
They enclosed, respectively, another letter from Liam Fitzpatrick, identical to that written on 10th October, but dated 2nd November; a letter from Michael Looby, County Engineer, dated 7th November, saying that "the matter" had now been referred to Sean McCormack, Executive Engineer; and a further letter from Liam Fitzpatrick, dated 20th November, again reiterating in exactly the same words that "same" had been passed on to... the Council's Road Section!
In November, 2002, once more the river was so high that it came close to spilling into the Wright's garden, amongst other areas. It rose so high there that both the Town Clerk and the Town Engineer called to the Wright's home, armed with wellies, and asked if they could pass through the house to inspect the river.
"It was pouring rain, and the river was just about lapping up over the edge of the garden", recounts Herbert. "We all stood there in the rain, looking at it, and then I asked the Town Engineer - 'What's going to happen?' He looked back at me, and said calmly: 'If it keeps raining, you're going to be flooded.'
Luckily for the Wrights and their neighbours, the rain did stop on that occasion, allowing the river to drop back again to its normal levels - until the next time.
On 29th November, Deputy Roche varied his letter by assuring Mr. Wright that he would continue to press the matter with the Minister for the Environment and Local Government (whom Michael McGloughlin of their Water Section had said had nothing to do with flood relief). This time he enclosed a letter from Noel Dempsey, then Minister for the Environment and Local Government, acknowledging receipt of Deputy Roche's correspondence.
"A further letter on this matter will issue as soon as possible", Deputy Roche was assured by Minister Dempsey.
On 5th December, Mr. Wright wrote to Liam Fitzpatrick direct, copying Deputy Roche, to say that Mr. Fitzpatrick's letters had been passed on to him. He pointed out that neither himself nor Deputy Roche had received any correspondence from either the Roads Section or the Engineer, and asked the question most of us would be wondering at this stage:- "I cannot understand what involvement the Roads Section would have in relation to the potential flooding of the Dargle River. Perhaps you might explain?"
On 11th December, Deputy Roche responded to Mr. Wright again, enclosing copy letters which he had written to "the Town Clerk, Bray Urban District Council, and the County Secretary". In his letter to Liam Fitzpatrick, A/County Secretary, Deputy Roche finally got quite firm.
"I have to say that I am not happy with the manner in which the matter is being handled", he pronounced.
He went on to say that "the immediate threat in the Lower Dargle area arises from overgrowth from the banks of the river and, more specifically, from silting in the river itself".
"After the 1986 floods a very considerable amount of work was done to increase the flood carrying capacity of the river. This work has now been undone, as residents have pointed out in correspondence with both the Urban Council and the County Council, by silting and by overhanging branches. At high water both of these factors have the effect of impeding the flow through the river endangering properties along the riverbank. I am firmly of the view that both the Urban Council and the County Council have a responsibility to maintain the river and to ensure that the considerable funds invested following the 1986 flood are not undone by poor maintenance."
Obviously worn out after this considerable missive, he wrote to the BUDC's Town Clerk:
"Dear Tom, I am enclosing a copy of a letter which I have written to the County Secretary regarding flooding on the Dargle Valley. The points which I make regarding the County Council administrative area are also applicable in the Bray Urban District Council administrative area. I should be very grateful if you would let me know what the Council is doing to improve matters".
Perhaps he should have tried this friendly approach with Mr. Fitzpatrick, because he received a reply from him dated 17th December, which said merely:
"I wish to acknowledge receipt of your letter regarding the above, and to advise that same has been passed on to the Council's Roads Section who will correspond directly with you".
On the other hand, Thomas Murphy, Town Clerk, replied on 20th December at great length, quoting the Town Engineer as reporting that:-
Even Deputy Roche was surprised, telling Mr. Wright in his covering letter of 4th January, 2002, that he "was aware of the flood protection works at Seapoint Court - from complaints which I received from local residents. I am, however, surprised at the claims made by the Town Engineer regarding other extensive works." He concludes that he would be grateful to have Mr. Wright's views on this.
One of Deputy Roche's 'Local Newsletters', seemingly around the end of 2001, also referred to this issue. It said:-
'Deputy Dick Roche has called on the County Manager to have an immediate examination made of the flood capacity of the Dargle River in Bray. Deputy Roche said, "People in Bray will never forget the traumatic events of August, 1986, when Hurricane Charlie caused major flooding throughout the Lower Dargle area. Since those floods significant funding has been invested in improving the flood carrying capacity of the Dargle River. There is, however, a major problem in that there seems to be no maintenance on the riverbanks or indeed in the river channel itself at present. In recent times there have been incidents of extremely high water in the river. A major problem would appear to exist at a number of points in the river where the riverbank has become overgrown and where debris is trapped in branches. This inevitably reduces the flood capacity of the river, can lead to damming at a number of points and that, in turn, will lead to flooding. It is the responsibility of the local authorities to keep the river channel clear and in particular to ensure that the river course is not obstructed.'
Herbert Wright responded to Deputy Roche's letter on 14th January, suggesting that himself and a couple of the other residents might meet with the Deputy.
By 25th January, 2002, Deputy Roche had again reverted to his standard letter (even the line breaks are the same), but enclosing a reply from... The Roads Section of Wicklow County Council!
Phil O'Rourke, Administrative Officer in the Roads Section, had written to Deputy Roche on 15th January:
"I wish to advise you that I will be discussing this matter in detail with the Area Engineer and indeed will liaise with the Town Clerk of Bray Urban District Council and will revert to you with a more detailed response in due course".
On 18th February, Deputy Roche wrote at length to Catherine Halligan, by then Town Clerk of Bray Urban District Council.
'I have been in contact with the Council on a number of occasions recently regarding concerns which I have about the river and flooding. I have, in particular, written to the Council on a number of occasions on behalf of residents in Coburg. As I pointed out in previous correspondence I am concerned that the houses at Coburg are extremely vulnerable to flooding from the rear. There are also problems at a number of other points in the river.
'Recently I had some correspondence with the Dargle Anglers, again this is the subject of a letter to you. The Dargle Anglers put forward a very compelling case that there is a high degree of silting in the river. I believe that a combination of all of these factors could cause further catastrophic flooding.
'I should be very grateful if the Town Engineer, myself and the residents of Coburg could meet on site at some time in the very near future to discuss this issue. I do believe that there is a degree of urgency in this case and I should be pleased to hear from you at an early date.'
Worn out entirely by all of this correspondence, Deputy Roche simply enclosed a compliment slip with a copy of this letter to Mr. Wright.
In fairness, he again wrote a substantial letter to Catherine Halligan on 26th March, 2002, as follows:-
'I have been in contact with the Council on a number of occasions on behalf of residents in Coburg who are concerned about the situation on the river.
'As you will be aware on a number of occasions recently the river rose to a point where residents in Coburg felt threatened. As I explained in previous correspondence to both the County Council and the Urban Council a part of the problem lies in the fact that silting has taken place in the riverbed itself and another problem has been overhanging branches which cause debris to build up again impeding the flow of water.
'The residents of Coburg are most anxious to meet with the relevant Council officials to discuss this particular issue. I personally would have an interest in sitting in on any such meeting as I believe that it is very important that we have a proper management plan for the river which would include ongoing maintenance, clearance of the channels and cutting back of growth which may impede the flow of water.
'Residents in Coburg are most anxious that such a meeting take place sooner rather than later.'
Deputy Roche sent a copy of this letter to Herbert Wright on 26th March also, telling him that this followed "a number of previous reminders by e-mail and by letter".
Silt bank between
A meeting did take place, Herbert Wright says, but made so little difference that on the 6th December, 2003, Herbert and Shirley Wright, were writing again on behalf of the residents of Coburg, to BUDC.
'We are compelled to write formally to you, regarding the potential danger to our homes, from the very real threat of the Dargle River flooding in this area.
'The Flood Protection Consultants have recommended that every three to four years, the river should be deepened, the bushes cut back from the river bank and the river should be cleared of any debris.
'However, the situation currently is as follows:
This time Herbert received quite a flurry of correspondence...
Fianna Fail councillor, David Grant, wrote to the Wrights on 19th January, 2004, enclosing a reply from Peter Phelan, Town Engineer, to the points raised in their letter. He said that he "had reviewed the points raised in their letter and confirm that the matter will be considered for completion in '04 as part of the extra finance provided in the Estimates for 2004". David Grant added that he had supported an increase in the level of funding for this area in the context of 2004 Council Budget "which will allow additional works be carried out than would have in other years."
John Byrne (original Labour councillor) wrote to the Wrights on 19th January also, telling them that the Town Council had provided 21,000 euro in that year's estimates for resilting the Slang under the Dargle Flood Protection Scheme. "The Council also agreed a sum in the region of 20,000 euro for the cleaning, upkeep and maintenance of River Dargle."
Cllr. Byrne's name also appeared on letters (undated) to "the Residents of Coburg" along with his 'new Labour' colleagues, Cllrs. Liz McManus, TD; John McManus; and Anne Ferris. One letter claimed that their proposal at "the Council meeting" was agreed, and "a sum of around 25,000 euro" (approximately 5,000 euro more than than claimed by John Byrne for cleaning, but not mentioning the 21,000 euro for resilting) had been included for works to be carried out on cleaning the Dargle River and the riverbank, as per the recommendations of the consultants, JB Barry and Associates.
Their other (earlier from its context) letter stated that the current situation was that the silt trap at the Slang was being emptied every year. It then went on to say that the Flood Protection Consultants had recommended that every three to four years the river should be deepened, the bushes cut back from the riverbank and the river should be cleared of all debris. They claimed that they had received agreement at Council level to implement those recommendations.
Sinn Fein's John Brady, elected in June 2004, wrote later that year on behalf of the Wrights to Deputy Dick Roche, appointed Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on 29th September, 2004.
A reply from Minister Roche's private secretary, dated 14th October, said that she had been asked by the Minister to write to Cllr. Brady informing him that "this matter is more appropriate to the Office of Public Works within the Department of Finance".
At a Bray Town Council meeting in December, 2004, the four Labour councillors - John McManus, John Byrne, Anne Ferris and Ann Egan - joined Fianna Fail councillors - Pat Vance, David Grant and Joe Behan - along with the Fine Gael representative, Brid Collins, in voting down an amendment to the Draft Development Plan that would have returned several acres of land alongside the River Dargle, on the old Bray Golf Course, along with the land at Rehills, on the opposite side of the Dargle, to their original Public Amenity zoning.
The amendment had been proposed by the Green Party representatives on the Council, and supported by Sinn Fein's John Brady. The land was instead zoned as Town Centre, despite a petition signed by 350 local residents, asking to have this reversed.
Labour councillors, John McManus and Ann Egan, represent Bray's North Ward, which is the main area of land affected by flooding. Labour councillor, Anne Ferris, and Fianna Fail councillor, Pat Vance, represent Dwyer Park and Seapoint Court.
On 20th June, 2005, our community group e-mailed the Town Clerk requesting a brief report of the works the Council claims to have carried out on the river since 1986, along with sight of the Book of Estimates to verify the amounts spent on flood protection during this time. We also asked to buy, borrow, or photocopy on the premises a copy of the Barry Report on which these works are supposed to be based.
We explained that this would be posted on our web site which would be going live in approximately ten days.
We received an e-mail from Georgina Franey, Assistant Staff Officer in the Town Clerk's office, that same day, telling us that our request has been referred to the town Engineer and the Senior Executive Engineer in Environment for investigation.
"They will revert back to you as soon as possible." Guess what...?