mountains, sea - and river
The town of Bray is the gateway to 'The Garden County' of Wicklow in Ireland, and a place of great natural beauty, spoiled in many instances by bad planning and negligent maintenance. It is our town.
Over the past ten years, several decisions bitterly opposed by local residents through public meetings and marches have been forced through by the local authority.
Now lands that are part of the Dargle flood plains have been rezoned as Town Centre, allowing high density building on them in clear contravention of . This will further endanger the homes and lives of hundreds of people in the lowlands of Little Bray, compounding 19 years of neglect on river maintenance following the last of the major floods that continually ravage this community.
We are not asking that a planning application made by Pizarro Developments (which encompasses part of the Dargle flood plain) be stopped. We ask simply that the playing fields and park already planned within this development be moved to the riverside - to protect the flood plain that protects our homes.
This is our story…
This area has suffered four major floods during the last 100 years. Lying between the mountains and the sea, the war waged between high spring tides and a river swollen from heavy rain regularly spills over into the lowlands of Little Bray
Bray golf links , the People’s Park, the Fairgreen, and the Slang, on the north side of the river, and Barry’s Field, the land between Mill River and the Dargle, and the land at Rehills on the south, all provided invaluable soakage for thousands of tons of water that would otherwise have added to this devastation.
The former home of Bray Golf Club is particularly important as it lies directly between the ‘basin’ of streets which suffer most from floods and the sea. The body of James Plunkett from Little Bray, who drowned in flooded Castle Street in 1905, was found the next day on the golf course.
Nineteen years later, Phase II of the Barry Report has still not been carried out, and locals claim that the regular repairs and maintenance also earmarked as vital in this report are paid little more than lip service.
Yet Bray Town councillors voted to rezone two vital pieces of the Dargle flood plain in the Bray Draft Development Plan – the part of the old golf links next to the Dargle and the land at Rehills – from Public Amenity to Town Centre.
When, following local elections last June, newly elected councillors from the Green Party and Sinn Fein expressed concerns about the rezoning, they were voted down by the established Labour, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael councillors – despite clear recommendations from the OPW to the contrary.
Local residents put together a petition signed by over 350 people in less than a week to try to persuade councillors to change their vote on this issue in time for agreement on the Bray Development Plan 2005-2011. We were ignored.
Bray Development Plan 2005-2011 was voted through by Labour, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael councillors on 12th April, 2005. Nine weeks later elaborate plans for a 2 billion euro development were submitted by Pizarro Developments Ltd., with the most intensive building to take place alongside the river on the old Bray Golf Club course.
They include 16.5 acres of land for a public park and future GAA and educational facilities – well away from the river. We are demanding that this green area be moved forward onto the flood plain, in line with OPW recommendations, and that this land and the land at Rehills be returned to its original Public Amenity zoning.
Big and Little Bray
Bounded by the Wicklow mountains, it was the seaside on the east of this town that was, for most of its life, the public face of Bray.
...But, if the seafront was the face of Bray, the river was always at its heart. It was along the banks of the Dargle that Bray had begun, and it was the bridge across the river that connected its two communities – Big and Little Bray.
Big Bray, south of the river, was built on high ground, and it was here that the big Georgian and Edwardian houses – and the shops that served their inhabitants – were built.
The original Little Bray (which later expanded uphill to Palermo and Fassaroe), was built on the lowlands to the north of the river. If you stand on Bray Bridge, you look down into the heart of Little Bray, and the first and only shopping complex to be built there to-date - Superquinn Shopping Centre, later known as Castle Street Shopping Centre. Nobody had thought to advise Feargal Quinn, seemingly, what the community of Little Bray had always known – the lowlands of Little Bray suffer from disastrous approximately every twenty-five years. Following the '86 flood, Superquinn took an unsuccessful case against several bodies, including Bray Urban District Council - it makes .
Over the last 100 years this area has suffered in 1905, 1931, 1965, and 1986. To the north these floods were contained by rising ground at Ravenswell, Sunnybank, and the Upper Dargle Road, forming a ‘basin’ of the streets between them and the river. The Middle Dargle Road (or Greenpark Road) is used as a canal conduit by rescue boats in times of flooding in the area, disembarking their passengers at the foot of Sunnybank to climb to sanctuary in Ravenswell Convent.
In every major flood – and in all of the smaller floods in between – the Dargle has been swollen with rain water coming down from the Wicklow Hills to the west, and further swollen by the many streams and tributaries that feed into it on the way down to Bray harbour. The lowlands of Little Bray, though, have had the extra pressure of stormy seas beating the swollen river back on itself, particularly if the storm coincides with a spring tide, which occurs at every new and full moon.
Bray Commons – the Flood Plain
The enormous pressure on this part of the Dargle during a flood has traditionally been alleviated by the grasslands of Bray golf links , the People’s Park, the Fairgreen, and the Slang, on the north side of the river, and Barry’s Field, the land between Mill River and the Dargle, and Rehills on the south. Much of this land was originally Bray Commons, stretching from the sea inland along the north side of the Dargle River up to and beyond the present Slang. The Fairgreen has now been built over by a large factory, soon to be replaced by an apartment block, and by houses. The Maltings are located now on the land at Mill River. Both of these developments have taken place since 1986, but Seapoint Court was built on Barry's Field and Coburg Estate between the People's Park and the Slang between the 1965 and '86 floods. Both suffered immense damage in 1986, and both have been threatened with flooding on several occasions since - notably November 2000 and November 2002.
In addition, large apartment blocks - LaVallee and River Dale - have been built in the last few years further upriver from the Slang.
The thousands of tons of water that soaked into all of these areas before reaching the houses beyond, and the valuable minutes it has allowed locals to flee from advancing water, has long been recognised by the people of the locality, but also by the engineers who built the wall alongside the river by the old Bray Golf Course. This part of the river wall - where the sea most closely meets the river - had holes in it to allow excess water from the river to flow safely off into the grounds of the old golf links.
The golf links flood even in heavy rain, when nowhere else in the area is flooded, creating a large lake along the second fairway, and putting this part of the course completely out of play.
From the River to the Sea
But the old golf course is particularly important for another – obvious – reason: river water naturally heads towards the sea – and the golf links is between the flood basin of Little Bray and the sea. According to old people in Little Bray, the laneway beside the present Kavanagh’s Pub on Castle Street, skirting Dwyer Park to emerge onto the golf course lands, was part of the original course of the Dargle.
This is supported by the history of the one death directly attributable to drowning in the last four major floods, and by a near catastrophe as recently as 1986.
In 1905, James Plunkett, a local man, was swept away by the current from Castle Street as he tried to cross this laneway to get to his home. He was carried down the laneway and flung up against what is now the side entrance to the golf course, from Dwyer Park. The force of the flood eventually broke down the wall around the golf course, and the unfortunate man’s body was recovered from the links the following day.
In 1986, the propeller of the boat in which four volunteers were attempting to rescue locals in the flood of August that year caught in the roof of a car hidden in the flood water beneath them. They were thrown into the strong current at the present Castle Street garage, and swept along Dwyer Park until they reached the gates into the golf course. There, through a combination of luck (one man was swept over a hedge into a garden and safety) and frantic strength, they managed to make their way back uphill towards Ravenswell. Their boat was later found washed up on Bray golf course.
The Barry Report
After the 1986 flood, a major survey was finally commissioned – the Barry Report.
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", according to a letter written from the Water Services Section of the Department of the Environment and Local Government, on behalf of the Minister for that Department, to Bray Urban District Council in March 2001.
The letter 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.
In addition to these major works, the Flood Protection consultants had recommended that every three to four years the river should be deepened, the bushes cut back from the riverbank annually and the river cleared of all debris, with pointing and repairs to the river wall carried out as necessary.
The above correspondence between the Department of the Environment and Local Government and B.U.D.C. seems to have been generated by pressure from residents in especially vulnerable areas, like River Lane and Coburg estate, who came perilously close to being flooded again in November 2000, and in November 2002.
As late as December 2003, Herbert Wright of Coburg Estate, whose home is located above the banks of the Dargle, between the Slang and the People’s Park, wrote to Bray Town Council to say:-
Yet as far back as 1998, Bray councillors were proposing to rezone the old Bray Golf Course and the land at Rehills, opposite the Slang, from open space to mixed use.
By the time the 2005-2011 Bray Draft Development Plan was published early last year, the land alongside the river on the old Bray Golf Course – one of the most important areas in the flood plain for the people of the lowlands of Little Bray – had been changed from Public Amenity to Town Centre, the opposite end of the development scale. And so had the land at Rehills.
charts the history of the handing over of this golf course by Bray Golf Club to Dwyer Nolan, developers, in exchange for a new 18 hole home on Bray Head in June 2003. It went on to say that Eddie Dwyer, MD of Dwyer Nolan, had spent in total “about five years assembling the site, organising rezoning, and in September 2003, he sold it for €90 million to the Pizarro consortium”.
1764 over 1909
Questions on Zoning
In June, 2004, local elections removed the balance of power on Bray Town Council from Fianna Fail (five and one former FF councillor) and gave it to the left. There are three Fianna Fail representatives; one Fine Gael representative; four Labour representatives; three Green Party representatives; and one Sinn Fein representative on the present Town Council.
When submissions received on the Draft Development Plan were being considered in December 2004, the Green Party, supported by Sinn Fein, proposed that the zoning should be changed back again on both the golf course and the land at Rehills, because of the danger of flooding if this land were to be intensively developed – at least until a flood protection survey could be carried out.
No plans had been submitted by the developers to the Council at that stage, nor had the survey carried out on behalf of the developers been seen by the councilors. It was rezoned ‘blind’.
The proposal was voted down by Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, and Labour. Two of these Labour councillors (John McManus and Ann Egan) represent the North Ward, which forms the biggest part of the flood basin. Anne Ferris of Labour and Pat Vance of Fianna Fail represent the East Ward in which the remainder of the flood area lies. They justified their position by including an amendment that said that “no development would be allowed on this land if the OPW considered it dangerous”.
In July of 2004, five months before this vote, the OPW had written to the Planning Section of Bray Town Council, specifically recommending that their flood protection guidelines be incorporated into the Development Plan.
Meanwhile, most of the community of Little Bray – mainly working-class and unwise in the ways of planning - while hearing rumours of a big development about to take place on the old golf course, did not realize that this was to be allowed to take place on the land right next to the river. When they did, a petition was hurriedly put together in less than a week and signed by over 350 people before being submitted to the council in time for the February 22 deadline for submissions re amendments.
This was also copied to both the Labour Party and to local Minister Dick Roche, Minister for the Environment and Local Government. Despite an immediate meeting between their Labour representatives and locals (at Labour’s request), and despite a letter from Minister Roche assuring locals that he would “circulate their concerns to all party colleagues on Bray Town Council and demand a full report from the Council”, a representative group from the community attended the Bray Town Council meeting of April 12, 2005 – still not knowing whether their Labour representatives would support them or not.
In the event, when Green Party councillor, Ciaran O’Brien, tried to raise the issue, he was told that this submission had been voted down in December, 2004, and was not open to discussion. When a representative from Little Bray tried to ask questions, the group was told that they should have written to the council several days in advance and asked permission to address them.
The Council did vote to have an independent survey carried out on behalf of Bray Town Council before allowing development to commence. Pizarro have now lodged their planning application: the independent survey has not even been commissioned.
The Labour, Fianna Fail, and Fine Gael councilors have failed to represent us on the single most important issue in our past and future – the defence of our homes and our lives from flooding. They have done this knowing the history of our area, and knowing that our neighbourhood has a high concentration of elderly people living in it – many of them housed by the local authority in single storey dwellings close to the river.
Bray Development Plan 2005-2011, including the rezoned golf links and lands at Rehills, was voted through by Labour, Fianna Fail, and Fine Gael on April 12, 2005. Nine weeks later, Pizarro Developers submitted elaborate plans for a 2 billion euro development, which includes high density building on the old Bray Golf Course.
We are not asking that the development planned by Pizarro be stopped: new neighbours have always been made welcome in Little Bray. What we are asking is that the simple and logical step be taken of moving the green area (playing pitch and park) already included in this development forward to the edge of the river so that the flood plain remains intact. This green area is located on the present plans on the opposite side of the development, away from the river. It will not be flooded there, but when the next high seas and river collide in the Little Bray stretch of the Dargle River, we will be – again.
We are not only asking, but demanding, that our Town Councillors rezone this land at the golf course and at Rehills to its original, safe Public Amenity category, as per the OPW guidelines. Their assurances that ‘if there is any danger, we will not allow it to go ahead’ needs to be copper-fastened in law.
Promises to Keep
…And we are demanding that Phase II of the Flood Protection work on the Dargle should be carried out immediately, and that regular maintenance and repair work also be carried out, at an appropriate time of year and in a sensitive manner to protect our wild-life, as well as ourselves.
Filling the Basin
One of our local schools – St. Cronan’s – has a website that explains very clearly what causes spring tides. It also explains why the highest tides in the world occur in the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia, Canada:-
‘The bay is very narrow, so the tide which brings water rushing in from the ocean can rise and fall up to 20 metres a day.’
The Dargle flood plain has already been narrowed and made more shallow by building on the Fairgreen, Barry's field, and the land at Mill River, as well as allowing silting and overgrowth to clog the river channel.
If the east side of this flood basin is built up so that the flood waters cannot get away to the sea, how high will the water rise next time in our homes…?