OFA Update, 30 September 2018

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Dear OFA contact,

Since our last update at the beginning of April, the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme has been progressing through the planning process, and the Environment Agency is waiting for direction from the County Council following a period of public consultation on the plans. It is likely that an updated suite of documents will be published, and made available for public comment, but the EA is expecting to be granted permission later this year. As part of the implementation the EA is expecting to acquire some land under compulsory purchase orders and notices have gone up recently around the project area about this. Construction is expected to begin in 2019 and take three years to complete.

Some of you may be aware that in recent weeks a group called Hinskey and Osney Environment Group has been formed and has been voicing opposition to the scheme. Much of their case is based on misunderstandings of what is actually being proposed, and we are engaged in trying to correct these misapprehensions, including talking with some of the people involved in HOEG – see https://oxfordfloodalliance.org.uk/2018/09/28/ofas-clarifications-and-explanations/ for more detail.

The creation of the scheme will involve disruption, trees will be removed (but then replanted, with a net gain across the scheme) and the appearance of the landscape will be a little different after the scheme is complete. We understand why this causes concern, but the EA assure us they will be making every effort to minimise the impact.

We’ve spent a lot of time working on options over the years there is in our view no effective alternative to the two stage channel proposed by the EA. This is a fairly ‘natural’ scheme – very far from a concrete channel. This fits well with our vision that OFAS should create a scheme which becomes a haven for nature, where biodiversity is increased. This is something OFA has pushed for and contributed to developing, and which we believe in very strongly. For example, the plans include new features such as scrapes and ponds, and the gradual slope of the second stage channel adds a hydrological gradient – meaning new and varied wildlife habitats. And it’s proposed that the day-to-day management work (at least on those areas owned by the EA) will be by local environmental organisations familiar with managing land for nature, contracted to the EA. We’re looking forward to the scheme area becoming much richer in wildlife than it is now, an asset the city can be proud of and that people can enjoy.

Some people appear to be concerned that the building of OFAS will result in more development in the floodplain. We don’t believe this will happen. The floodplain will still flood, even with OFAS, and in our view the existence of a managed, environmentally rich, scheme, with much of the land owned by the EA, will actually reduce the risk of further development.

The other major issue we’ve been working on, apart from OFAS, is the Seacourt Park & Ride extension. We had a meeting with the City Council at which we were able to obtain details of the design of the sustainable drainage system for the car park. This allayed our concerns about displacement of groundwater, but we remain concerned about the way compensation for displacement of floodwater by the extension is planned. We have asked the EA to explain the science on which their ‘no objection’ was based, and we’ve asked them to identify the professional advice on which they rely. The EA seems to be struggling to provide an answer to these simple questions, and we’re still waiting for a satisfactory response. Our view currently is that the extension of the P&R, in the manner proposed, would reduce flood storage capacity in the floodplain.

We will be presenting at the annual Oxford Area Flood Partnership meeting at Oxford Town Hall on 2 October, 6-8pm. There will also be presentations from the EA, local councils and Thames Water on what’s been happening in the city to reduce flood risk over the past year. Please come along.

OFA will hold its next public meeting in the spring. Further details will follow in due course.

OFA Steering Group.

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