The revised planning application for the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme will be submitted soon for planning permission. OFA has worked closely with the Environment Agency over many years on the development of OFAS. The scheme will, in our view, greatly improve the level of protection to communities and businesses at risk from flooding, and will make the city far more resilient to climate change. We believe OFAS is the best option for Oxford, and that it strikes the appropriate balance between the many competing factors which have to be accommodated within the scheme design. Apart from providing high levels of flood protection it also includes ambitious targets for increased biodiversity. We’ve been through a long consultation process on the scheme and taken on board many suggestions from local people. That broad consultation phase is now at an end and we’re moving into the planning process through which those who continue to have reservations about aspects of the scheme will be able to argue their case. OFA’s view is that we need to come to a decision at this point so the project team can get on and build the scheme. Major revisions to the design now would result in significant delays and might even jeopardise the scheme altogether. Risk of severe flooding is increasing all the time and further postponement is not in the interest of the large flood affected community in the city. OFA will be doing all it can to help ensure the scheme secures planning permission.
The proposed redevelopment of the Oxpens area involves the lowering of some land to compensate for the raising of other areas to lift them out of the flood plain. The initial round of consultation in the summer attracted a fair amount of comment on the need to preserve floodplain capacity as this helps reduce risk of property flooding.
A new set of consultation documents has just been issued and OFA is pleased to note that flood compensation has been calculated on what is known as a ‘level for level’ basis. In other words any land which is raised will be compensated for by lowering land within the same height band elsewhere on the site. We understand the Environment Agency insisted on this.
One of our major concerns with the Seacourt Park & Ride extension was that compensation was not calculated on this basis resulting in a loss of floodplain capacity. The Environment Agency allowed this at the time despite our protests. We’re please that for this new development the appropriate industry recommended approach has been adopted. The compensation includes an additional allowance for climate change and should help with reducing flood risk in the city if the development goes ahead.
Residents in Campbell Rd, Florence Park, had their gardens flooded by sewage on 21 October in a near repeat of a similar event last year. This time round Larkrise Primary School had to be shut for a day. https://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/19662645.larkrise-primary-school-oxford-closed-due-sewage-leak/
Overflowing sewers are a long standing problem in the area. Earlier this year OFA supported local residents in organising a meeting of relevant agencies, chaired by MP Annaliese Dodds, to discuss solutions. This followed a serious incident on 3 and 4 October 2020 when gardens were flooded with sewage to a depth of 60cm. Some sheds and home offices were affected, causing misery for people working from home because of Covid.
The meeting, which involved Thames Water, the City Council and the Environment Agency, was constructive, but progress since has been slow. A report which Thames Water should have completed on the causes of the 2020 floods has still, it appears, not been provided to the Council. The clean-up response to the events a few weeks ago again showed the company apparently unable to deal with the community other than on a customer by customer basis.
OFA is supporting the community in trying to get a number of short term measures adopted to ease the situation while a wider solution is worked out. The sewage released in these events spills into Boundary Brook which enters the Thames downstream of Donnington Bridge, adding to the levels of pollution in the river.
‘Significant climate impacts are inevitable especially for flood and coastal risks, water management, freshwater wildlife and industrial regulation,’ says the latest Environment Agency adaptation report published earlier this month.
According to the latest projections, summer rainfall in the UK is expected to increase 22% by 2080, and winter rainfall by 13%. The report sets out what the agency is doing to help reduce flooding of properties and businesses, ensure future drinking water supply, reduce pollution, and protect the biodiversity of freshwater habitats. The Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme (OFAS) features as a case study in the report, an illustration of the kind of action the EA is taking in partnership with others.
Early action is needed the agency warns: ‘Despite more than a decade of concerted effort to reduce these risks, the speed and scale of climate change means that many are either increasing or remain significant. This broad conclusion matches recent assessments from the Climate Change Committee, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and others.’
The OFAS scheme will be submitted for planning approval this winter. The planning documents will incorporate the latest government assumptions about future rainfall and flood risk.
The Environment Agency will be leading an online engagement exercise later this month to update the public on the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme. Elements of the scheme have been redesigned because the A423 bridge (southern bypass) crossing the railway was found to have structural weaknesses. Problems with the bridge were identified by Oxfordshire County Council late in 2019 requiring a redesign of the flood relief project.
The replacement bridge creates an opportunity to accommodate the flood relief project in a way which is simpler, less costly and easier to maintain. Plans for replacing the bridge and for the separate flood scheme are now proceeding in parallel and in a coordinated way.
Because of the delays the Environment Agency has had to update various environmental surveys required for the planning application, and has also been taking the time to review some other aspects of the scheme design. The scheme retains the same overall design as in the previous planning application, with necessary changes made around the A423 bridge area. Full details of the changes will be explained online, including new videos from the project team and new visuals from 17 May and can be accessed from that date at: consult.environment-agency.gov.uk/thames/oxfordscheme.
The scheme will be submitted for planning approval in late 2021 and the full suite of planning documents will be available for public comment at that time. The May activities are intended to update members of the public about the scheme and be an opportunity to ask questions, prior to the start of the formal planning process.
OFA is a member of the Sponsoring Group for the OFAS project and supports the proposals being put forward by the Environment Agency.
Back in February the Environment Agency announced a new collaboration with the environmental charity Earth Trust which will be giving advice on the environmental legacy of the project. OFA proposed a couple of years back that a local environmental charity be engaged, and we welcome the partnership with Earth Trust which has now been announced. We have been keen advocates of maximising environmental benefits from the OFAS project from the beginning and want to ensure these are maintained and built on through the life of the scheme.
Ian Nutt, Director of Programmes & Partnerships at Earth Trust, told OFA:
The Earth Trust is both delighted and inspired to be supporting the Environment Agency over the next two to three years with the environmental vision for the resulting wetland habitat created by the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme. As an Oxfordshire-based charity, our mission is to be the champions for accessible natural green (and blue) spaces for the benefits of nature, the environment and people. We are bringing our experience of developing wetlands on our own site (near Little Wittenham and Dorchester on Thames) and how people access and interact with them longer-term. We’ve just got started on this multi-year collaboration, and really look forward to engaging more with OFA and local groups who have invested so much time and effort into this major programme.
Initially, our role will be supporting the EA with developing the vision for the end result; thinking through how the new stream and wetland habitats can maximise biodiversity, whilst also being a practical landscape that allows for grazing, engaging with people and delivering a wealth of benefits for the local area.
Once the project has all the necessary approvals and construction is about to start an external environmental partner will be formally appointed for the longer-term. They will be responsible for the habitat management and enhancement in the scheme area, as well as maintaining relationships with local communities.
In the first week of February we’ve experienced the worst flooding in Oxford since 2014. The coordinated response from the Environment Agency and local authorities shows how far we’ve come in recent years in the management of flood events. We owe them a big thank you.
Back in the early 2000s flood management was reactive and often disorganised. But lessons were learned and we now benefit from much better levels of preparedness, and good cooperation between the various agencies. We also benefit from the infrastructure put in place to divert water away from houses, and from regular clearing of water courses of fallen trees and flood debris.
Bulstake Close barrier and pump
The high level of flooding this year has provided a robust test of flood management procedures. With UK winters getting wetter and wetter we can expect more of these type of events and bigger ones, so it’s important we continue to refine the response to make it as good as we can get it. This is something OFA is actively working on. The flood alleviation scheme is still some years away.
A major weak spot currently is the slow response of Thames Water to residents experiencing sewage leaks. We have had reports of sewers in various locations overflowing as a result of the high flood water. Householders reporting these problems have found Thames Water difficult to engage. OFA is raising these issues with the various bodies responsible for flood management. Oxfordshire MP Robert Courts has insisted Thames Water ‘must do more’ according to a BBC report. We agree.
Flooding from sewer South Hinksey
We also think communication to local residents during a flood event about what’s happening and what’s being done in response could be improved. These events are also an opportunity to educate residents, particularly new residents, about the nature of the flood risk in their area. OFA has initiated discussions about this with the Environment Agency and other interested parties.
At a local level the response in some specific communities can be further refined to ensure the most vulnerable households are known about, and receive timely and targeted help. The new barrier in South Hinksey had its first serious test. It did the job required of it but will need some further adjustments if it’s to be effective in a larger flood. The Environment Agency is looking at this.
We continue to be concerned about safety issues at the Seacourt Park and Ride extension once it is open. We believe there is a significant risk of cars being stranded in flood water there. The Seacourt Stream overflowed into part of the existing car park during the recent foods, leaving parked cars standing in shallow water. The bike rack by the bus stop was also flooded.
Cars standing in flood water at Seacourt P&R
Adrian Porter, from the OFA Steering Group, was interviewed on BBC Oxford on 5 February about the flooding across Oxford and about our ongoing campaigns.
The new waiting room (left} and the car park extension to the right…
Richard Thurston, who was one of the founder members of OFA, has rejoined the Steering Group to provide additional capacity following the death of Peter Rawcliffe. Richard was very active in the early years of OFA but took a break to focus on his young family and a new and demanding job. We’re very pleased to have him back to the Steering Group. Richard lives on Osney Island.
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.