New multi-million pound Belfast flood defences welcome but is it enough, ask NI Greens

Concern has been expressed that a new multi-million pound tidal defence scheme for Belfast might not be enough to mitigate against rising sea levels in Northern Ireland.

Saturday, 11th September 2021, 12:38 pm
Updated Saturday, 11th September 2021, 12:58 pm
Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon at Stranmillis Weir

The Green Party MLA Rachel Woods said similar defence schemes are needed in other areas with rising seas threatening large swathes of land.

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon last week signed contract documents awarding the design and construction phase of a “£17 million Belfast Tidal Flood Alleviation Scheme” to Lagan Construction Ltd.

She expressed hope the new tidal defences - to cover an area of over five miles, extending along the tidal River Lagan to cover the area from Belfast Harbour to Stranmillis Weir - would reassure “those concerned about the effects of sea level rise caused by climate change”.

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Areas of Belfast at risk from rising sea levels, according to US-based non-profit Climate Central

This comes after the News Letter revealed that a new mapping tool by the authoritative US-based ‘Climate Central’ organisation had highlighted a huge chunk of the city centre – including several landmark locations such as St George’s Market, the City Airport, and the Titanic Quarter – as being at risk of severe flooding in the coming decades unless action is taken.

Other areas of Northern Ireland at serious risk from the rise in sea levels include much of Newtownards, along with vast swathes of the Ards Peninsula.

Huge swathes of rich, low-lying farmland along the coast of Lough Foyle in Co Londonderry are also at risk.

Minister Mallon said: “The Belfast Tidal Flood Alleviation Scheme has not only been designed to integrate with the surrounding landscapes and streetscapes but also takes into account the latest projections on climate change. The scheme extends to over 8.5km along the tidal River Lagan covering the area from Belfast Harbour to Stranmillis Weir. This scheme will provide a long term approach to tidal flood risk management for Belfast and has been designed to allow future adaption to mitigate against potential sea level rises.”

Areas of the Ards peninsula at risk of flooding, according to US-based non-profit Climate Central

Green Party MLA Rachel Woods welcomed the flood defence project but stressed that more needs to be done to alleviate the impact of climate change.

“We need more of this,” she told the News Letter. “It is good that this is happening but it needs to be happening in other places. We have massive issues in our peninsular areas, our coastal areas.

“Yes, we do need these mitigations but our whole structure needs to change in terms of where we develop, where we build.

It’s good that it’s happening but we need more of this. This is what we’re going to have to deal with unless we get our act together, and even at that we’re still going to have to deal with the severe erosion and flooding that we already know about.”

Her party colleague, Belfast City councillor Brian Smyth, said working class areas are amongst those most at risk.

“We’re getting a better understanding of where we are at with climate change and I think there is a real urgency for the Department to go back and look at the data, and ask if we are doing enough,” he said.

“I know people will say this is scaremongering, but we really do need this city to be prepared for climate breakdown.”

He continued: “We need to have these conversations. With rising sea levels, the communities that are most at risk in Belfast are our inner city, working class communities. You’ve got Short Strand, Ravenill, the Lower Newtownards Road, the Shore Road, lower north Belfast, and you’re also talking about Sydenham.

I don’t want to scare people but I think there is a real need to go back and look at the data here.”