Independent civil engineer appointed to lead flooding review

Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill adresses guests at the gala dinner of the North American-European Union Agricultural Policy Congress 2015 at the Titanic building in Belfast.  Picture: Cliff Donaldson
Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill adresses guests at the gala dinner of the North American-European Union Agricultural Policy Congress 2015 at the Titanic building in Belfast. Picture: Cliff Donaldson

We must learn all we can from the recent flooding events in the north so we can be even better prepared the next time.

This was the key message from Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle O’Neill as she announced she had appointed Alan Strong, the current chair of the Drainage Council, to lead a review into the winter flooding.

Speaking on a visit to Clady, requested by Grace McDermott, to view how the village had been impacted by the significant flooding last winter, the Minister said: “I am pleased that Alan has accepted my invitation to chair this review. It is important that he is independent from those involved with the management of this flood event and I am confident he will carefully examine current procedures and practices, test how robust, effective and fit for purpose they are, and make recommendations where necessary.”

During her visit to the Tyrone village, the Minister heard how many of the flood defences in the Strabane District protected many properties during the prolonged and heavy rainfall in November and December. She was also briefed about the initial flood investigations which identified that some repair work was necessary. This is ongoing to ensure that existing defences are fit for purpose and ready for the next flood.

Minister O’Neill said: “As we all know, the flooding had a major impact on the lives and livelihoods of a significant number of people throughout the north many, like those I am meeting in Clady today, are still dealing with the effects. While the hard defences in Castlederg and Strabane fulfilled their function and protected the towns from flooding, we have reviewed and have undertaken some repair work to existing defences.

“The multi-agency response, involving Rivers Agency, TransportNI, NI Water, PSNI, NIFRS and the councils worked well and I want to once again offer my personal appreciation for the tremendous work that was undertaken throughout the many flooding events over the winter to protect people and properties.

“We have a duty to the people that we serve to ensure that we carefully examine our response to this emergency and learn lessons that can be applied, so that when the next storm comes along, we are even better prepared to minimise the impact on families, homes, businesses and farmland from flooding.”

Mr Strong is a senior lecturer in environmental engineering in the University of Ulster and a well respected civil engineering professional. The Minister called on those affected by this winter’s flooding to write to Mr Strong to outline their experiences, their concerns and most importantly, their suggestions on how the multi-agency response could be improved.

The Minister concluded: “For me, it is important that the review not only considers the multi-agency emergency response but that it also considers the issues faced by those most affected by the flooding. It is vital that the experiences of those most affected are captured and considered by the review. Alan is as keen as I am that this happens and he will meet with some residents, businesses and farmers, to hear about the effect the flooding has had on their lives and livelihoods.”

Written correspondence from those affected by the flooding should be sent to Alan Strong c/o Rivers Agency, Hydebank, 4 Hospital Road, Belfast, BT8 8JP.

In his first task, Mr Strong chaired a review event - attended by representatives from Rivers Agency, TransportNI, PSNI, Fire and Rescue Service, NI Water and the local councils at CAFRE’s Loughry Campus in Cookstown - which considered the effectiveness of the multi-agency response to the floods.