Seacourt car park safety concerns

One important area of concern for us during the planning process for the Seacourt park & ride extension was the safety of users of the car park. The speed with which the site flooded on Christmas Eve underlines the risk here. In the planning application the Council argued that: ‘Historically, river levels have risen fairly slowly in this location even during extreme events, giving sufficient warning for mitigation measures to be put in place.’ But the recent flood did not conform to this pattern.

Are the Council’s safety measures at the car park robust enough? We doubt it. Had the park and ride extension been operating there would probably have been several cars bobbing about down there. Flood barriers were only erected by the City Council at Bulstake Close after the flooding had already happened.

At the peak of the flooding river levels were so high water from the Seacourt stream west of the existing car park started to encroach onto the parking area (see photo below). There were several cars parked there. Had river levels been higher these cars would have been stranded. Flood management plans for the park and ride need to be reviewed.

Seacourt car park extension flooding

The recent flooding of the extension to Seacourt Park & Ride is further evidence that the City Council seriously underestimated the vulnerability of the site to flooding. The area flooded rapidly during the night of Christmas Eve, and as of today is still partly inundated though water is now being pumped out.

View of the extension down the main access ramp on Christmas Day

The Flood Risk Assessment (FRA) submitted with the Planning Application stated: ‘An analysis of historic flooding incidents relevant to the site suggests that the site will currently flood roughly once in every 1.7 years and will remain out of operation for around 10 days during an average flood event.’ That’s just under 6 days a year average.

Over the course of last winter (2019/20) the site was inundated four times and for prolonged periods. This latest incident represents a further 12 days of flooding. In our opposition to the planning application we argued that the Council had grossly underestimated the likely extent of flooding at the site. Events seem to be proving us right.

Sewer flooding in South Hinksey

It is not uncommon for residents of Kennington, North Hinksey and South Hinksey to suffer from sewer flooding problems and these continued over the Christmas period with surcharges occurring on both the 24th and 27th December. Both dates coincided with the heavy rainfall events and result from Littlemore Pumping Station being unable to cope with the high volume of water.

The second surcharge was particularly challenging for South Hinksey residents as the EA flood barrier prevented the sewage from leaving the village. Thankfully the pumps the EA had already provided prevented houses from being flooded, but they couldn’t stop a pollution incident as the sewage discharged into the local water courses.

Several residents reported the incident to Thames Water, but their response time was well short of their two-hour target. We know of one call which was responded to eleven hours after being reported, and another which took a whole three days. We’d be interested in other readers’ experiences.

OFA Steering Group member Adrian Porter has once again raised the poor level of service with the Thames Water customer liaison team.

Christmas 2020 flooding

Residents in Wolvercote, West Oxford, North and South Hinksey and Grandpont witnessed significant localised flooding on Christmas day after a rapid rise in river levels over the preceding days. Between the 17 and 22 December, more than 25mm of rain fell across the upper parts of the Thames catchment resulting in high river levels on the Thames and the three main tributaries feeding the Thames – the Evenlode, Windrush and Cherwell. An additional 20-60mm of rainfall fell between the 22 December and the 24 December on the already saturated Upper Thames catchment causing a rapid rise in river levels on the Thames in Oxford. The large volume of water discharging from the Cherwell to the west of Christchurch Meadows, is thought to have caused flood water further upstream in Oxford to back up, contributing to a faster rise in levels than we typically experience in the city.

After peaking on Christmas day levels fell, but further rainfall on Saturday night nudged levels back up. The rivers seem to have stabilised since and levels are expected to fall in the coming days. The peak level of the recent flooding was significantly higher than those seen during last winter’s flood events. The Environment Agency has been actively monitoring the situation and flood barriers were erected in South Hinksey as a precaution. Flood Warnings were issued for Wolvercote, and for the New Botley – North/South Hinksey – Grandpont areas. There have been no reports of properties in the city flooding.

The speed at which river levels rose on Christmas eve is particularly concerning, as this limited the amount of time available to deploy defenses. This has potential implications for future flood management planning.

Peter Rawcliffe

It is with great sadness that we report the death of Peter Rawcliffe on 14 December 2020. Peter was a founding member of the Oxford Flood Alliance and he played a pivotal role in the organisation throughout its history. He did a great deal to advance the interests of flood affected communities in Oxford. Peter was a thoughtful and courteous individual, always willing to listen to others’ views. But also a forceful and determined advocate for what he believed to be right. We owe him a great deal. He will be greatly missed.

Photo: Kirsty Edmonds/Oxford Mail

A new fish pass at Godstow

The Environment Agency is replacing the weir on the River Thames, located next to the Trout Inn at Godstow, in Oxfordshire. They say (our bold emphasis):

“We will remove the old weir structure and build a new weir, two metres downstream. This will allow for better debris clearance. For the last year we have been working on the detailed design of the new weir and applying for funding.

The weir will look largely the same, as we will be using the same design of gates. There will be an additional structure to the left (looking upstream) which will allow fish and eels to make their way up river.

The full briefing is here.

Maintenance and meadow management

We understand that an update on the search for an environmental partner for the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme (the Scheme) is likely to come soon. 

We have all along pressed to see the best possible done environmentally: having an expert partner to help manage the environmental aspects of the Scheme, while at the same time maintaining it for its purpose of flood relief, over the decades ahead, seems the ideal way.

Floodplains, with their meadows and wetland areas, are a valuable, and increasingly less common, habitat, demanding expertise to manage them well. So we’re waiting expectantly to learn what’s been happening.

Barrier at South Hinksey

A red letter day for South Hinksey village, with temporary barriers deployed (in a trial exercise) for the first time!

The exercise went well with the EA teams getting the barriers up in 3-4 hours from delivery to site. In a real flood event in the wet it might take longer and pumps would have to be deployed too but even so this would represent a good time. The residents will now feel very much more secure as winter approaches. Let’s hope the barrier isn’t needed but if it is it will be there. A big thank you to all involved.

Flood exercise today

The flood exercise mentioned in the last post, testing and demonstrating readiness to deploy defences, is under way today. In South Hinksey temporary barriers are being set up by the Environment Agency (EA). At Bullstake Close on the Botley Road the barriers there, which have been used before in a flood, will be erected; and fire crews are showing how the pipe which has been installed under the Botley Road can be used to deal with flood water and reduce the flooding of the road.

For South Hinksey this is a very reassuring demonstration of the ability to now defend the village from flooding. Such barriers have never been used here before.

Of course Oxford still needs a bigger, more permanent scheme – in the form of the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme. The OFA update in the previous post summarises the present position – the Scheme is under way, albeit delayed. In the meantime today’s activities show that we will not be without  protection in the interim.

Emma Howard-Boyd, Chair of the EA, and Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive, are in South Hinksey today to see what’s being done and meet the teams and there is no doubt that protecting Oxford in both the short and long term is being taken very seriously.

Our thanks to everyone who is working hard on behalf of the many local residents, businesses and other organisations affected by flooding.