Why we should trust the Environment Agency on OFAS

Public trust in politicians and government bodies is low for reasons we all understand. But not all government backed initiatives are bad. Here are eight reasons why OFA trusts the Environment Agency on the Oxford flood scheme design:

  • We’ve been working with the agency since 2007 on flood relief measures, and since 2013 on the large flood relief scheme. We know them well. We developed trust in their professionalism through the implementation of a series of highly effective short-term measures after the 2007 floods.
  • The EA is very responsive to flood events when they occur and have helped to keep us dry on many occasions. The people charged with developing and implementing the OFAS scheme are the same people who have come out to our communities to help during flood events – they want the solution to work as much as we do.
  • The EA, a government agency, is not seeking to make a profit from the scheme, nor are its employees financially rewarded for its implementation (beyond their normal salaries). Staff who work for the EA are instead motivated by the desire to improve the environment in which we live and work.
  • From a very early stage OFA wanted the flood scheme to have environmental goals and not just be about flood relief. The EA and scheme partners responded readily to this proposal. We recommended that the EA engage a local charity as an advisor and Earth Trust was appointed. Planning regulations now require that infrastructure projects show a 10% biodiversity gain, which this project does.
  • This is a very large and complex project, one of the biggest flood schemes in the country. Designing an effective scheme is a highly technical matter and we’re reliant on the expertise of EA staff and the consultants they use to get this right. That doesn’t mean we can’t challenge and ask questions but at some point we have to trust those with technical knowledge.
  • A large infrastructure project like OFAS has to meet standards laid down by central government. The project has developed in stages, each one becoming more detailed, and each requiring sign off by central government departments, including the Treasury. Elements of the scheme design, such as the modelling, have to be verified by external third parties. The scheme has been subject to a great deal of independent professional scrutiny during its development.
  • Public consultation on the scheme began in 2015 and there have been several rounds of public engagement, and many meetings with groups and individuals concerned about aspects of the scheme up to the present. Many modifications to the design have been made in light of feedback.
  • It’s OK to have reservations and still support the scheme. Only after planning is approved can the next level of conversations take place to agree e.g. traffic management plans. This is the same for any large infrastructure project, but unlike some other large projects the EA have already committed to ongoing discussions, to listen, and to work with communities. 

As a society we have to have mechanisms for making and acting on decisions if we’re going to respond effectively to the climate emergency. OFA believes we need to get on with constructing the scheme before another major flood hits us. If we allow this scheme to be rejected we risk there never being a scheme for Oxford. As a minimum there would be many years of delay and during that period we would be at the whim of changing governments, changing legislation and changing priorities. We also risk losing the existing team who are invested in the current proposal, know the area well and have fought hard on our behalf to get the project this far.