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.
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.
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.
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.
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.