Volunteers from Donaghadee Community Development Association and Donaghadee Sailing Club have produced a booklet outlining the risks to Donaghadee due to climate change and highlight improvements to the Harbour which could mitigate damage caused during storms. Included here at the launch of the document is Tony Skeats, DSC Trustee; Denis Waterworh, DCDA Chairman; Ross Bennett DSC Commodore and John Caldwell, DCDA.

    Climate change putting historic harbour at risk

    By Lesley Walsh

    DONAGHADEE has again been hailed as one of the best places to live in the country but its iconic historic harbour is inhospitable to visiting craft and even poses a danger to human life. Rising sea levels, increasing storm surges and southerly winds – all harbingers of climate change – are behind the waves that have been increasingly crashing over the town’s crumbling sea wall, prompting fears of future disruption to local infrastructure, including the emergency services. 

    That was the stark reality laid out in a new report, An Iconic Harbour Under Threat, compiled by Donaghadee Community Development Association and Donaghadee Sailing Club. The report assesses ‘the risks to Donaghadee posed by rising sea levels and storm surges’ which are forming an increasingly regular watery assault on the town, causing repeated flooding along The Parade especially.

    The collaboration has produced evidence of the need for an outlying breakwater to be built outside the harbour to protect it and the seafront.  They believe it will dilute the power of the waves sweeping the town which in recent years has caused flooding between two to four times a year.

    The report also suggests the possibility of an extension to the North Pier to lessen the effects even further, with estimated costs of the options ranging from between £5m to £12m.  The group is now calling on Ards and North Down Council, which took over ownership of the harbour in 2015, to carry out an economic appraisal on the proposals. They are encouraging the council to work with other agencies such as the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DEARA), the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) and the Northern Tourist Board, to assess ways of financing the major project.

    Elected representatives, including North Down MP Stephen Farry and councillors, attended last Wednesday’s launch of the report at the town’s sailing club. They heard how club members regularly lose craft to the ferocious waves, which also flood its dinghy park, located on dry land opposite its clubhouse, on The Parade.

    They further heard of the economic boost the town is missing out on due to the difficulties of mooring vessels in the harbour, compared to other harbours whose towns reap many thousands of tourist pounds annually. The group also illustrated a series of other proposals contained within the report which offer shorter-term and much cheaper measures. 

    One option included a floating fendering system, or weighted floats placed between vessels and the harbour wall which offer visiting boats protection from damage. It suggested a second option, the provision of a Mediterranean style ‘simple, seasonal pontoon, to which boarding boats could be safely tied up’ at 90 degrees to the North Pier. A third option illustrates the advantages of the installation of a pontoon dock at the South Pier to allow boats to be easily accessed.  

    This is in contrast to the status quo in which ‘berth holders face an unsafe obstacle course’, to reach the town’s moorings, according to the report. The paper draws on expertise from Queen’s University which compiled a document in 1980 on the issue, and a second by environmental consultants RPS in 2020, which both recommended the creation of a breakwater.

    Presenting the report, marine engineer and architect Tony Skeats spoke of the ‘high risk’ category much of Donaghadee has been designated by DAERA’s ‘map viewer’ in terms of high tides, sea levels and storm surges. He further referred to Climate Central, a not-for-profit news organisation that analyses climate science, which showed that should sea levels rise by just under a metre ‘then the area at risk is significantly increased’.

    Mr Skeats showed on illustrative maps how the forecast danger would impact on seafront properties and critical infrastructure such as the A2, the A48, the harbour and lighthouse, affecting services like ‘telecoms, sewage, water etc which run under the A2 at the seafront’. He also warned of the dangers beyond the town of Donaghadee as highlighted in the report.

    “In addition to the properties and businesses which will be affected there is the likelihood of widespread disruption to the greater Ards peninsula down the A2 and A48 including emergency services, schools, healthcare, business and recreation,” he said.