Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I commend the Member for securing the Adjournment debate. This is an issue that had an impact on many thousands of people across Belfast last August. Although the rainfall of that period was extreme and unusual, it raised a number of problems that need to be addressed for the future.
I remember the outcry when the new underpass on the Westlink was flooded. People asked how that could happen to such a new and modern road. For the people whom I represent, the flooding of the Westlink was a blessing. Had it not happened, areas such as St James’s and the Village would have found themselves under many feet of water. However, that is not unusual for the people of those areas; they have grown up with vivid memories of their areas being flooded.
Many people say that it is great to live beside a worldwide nature reserve such as the Bog Meadows. However, that brings with it many problems, one of which is periodic flooding. Many rivers flow from Black Mountain and Divis Mountain to the Bog Meadows, and from there they flow into rivers that run through local communities. Many older residents say that, in the past, sluice gates at the junction of the old Donegall Road roundabout and Broadway were closed at times of heavy rain to ensure that the city centre was not flooded. The result was that communities in that area bore the brunt of flooding.
Recently, people in areas such as Beechmount, parts of the Falls Road and Andersonstown and many other parts of the city bore the heartache of having their homes damaged by floods. Many of those people are still trying to put their lives and homes back in order. We must ask whether we learned anything from that and whether we are prepared for the next floods. We must also ask whether we did enough for those who suffered from the serious events of 2008.
The fundamental issue is ensuring that we are prepared for that type of emergency in future. Many local people say that the inspection and cleaning of street gullies is a problem. In the St James’s area, many gullies were blocked during the last floods. The problem must be rectified by regular checks.
Work that is carried out by utility companies and Departments leaves a patchwork of repairs across roads. That impacts on drainage and leaves many uneven road surfaces, which results in water lying in large pools. That causes major problems, which, if not dealt with, add to serious flooding at times of heavy rain.
The ongoing development of land along the heights of west Belfast is the biggest problem. Previously, that land might have soaked up the surplus water that now flows through channels to flood the lower ground. That puts a twofold pressure on the system: at times of flooding, sewage pours from sewers; and rivers burst their banks. Many new housing developments have not been thought out fully. Rather than being part of a longer-term strategy, housing is built in small developments.