Flood risk increasing says Environment Agency

‘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.

Frozen

The Seacourt car park extension site has been pumped out for a few days following Storm Brendan which has brought huge amounts of water from our extensive catchment in the Cotswolds. But today the site is again filled with water, which has frozen overnight.

Seacourt P&R extension – further updates

Work began again briefly as mentioned in the last post. Water was pumped from the site into a ditch newly dug nearby and leading to Seacourt Stream.

River levels have now risen further. Pumping has stopped and the site is again abandoned.

Were it a car park it would be unusable of course.

This post will be updated periodically (see photos).

Work resumed on 7 January 2020. This latest flood was another 18 days, taking total flooding of the site this winter to 6 weeks 5 days. The prediction in the planning application was for 2 weeks a year. It remains to be seen how it averages out over a number of years.

Work resumed at Seacourt P&R today

Work resumed at Seacourt P&R extension today, 4 weeks and a day after it had to stop because the site had flooded. Here is the sequence from 11 November to today.

Update on Seacourt P&R extension

Following up on our post of the 15th about the Seacourt P&R extension:

First, a budget figure of £5,156,122 was approved by Council in February 2019. That’s the last official figure we know of.

Second, the area remains flooded as this picture from this morning shows.

Edit – still flooded 25/11/19.

A mistake

While we wait anxiously to see whether homes, businesses and roads will flood, work on the City Council’s extension to its Seacourt Park & Ride has come to a very wet standstill.

Building a car park in a flood plain is not sensible. Work having started as the wet winter season approached, the site is now a lake and work has stopped. The JCBs have been withdrawn onto the higher ground of the existing car park, and heaps of building materials are abandoned in the water. If the construction had been completed much of the extension would currently be under water. All this while the City is on ‘only’ a Flood Alert, the lowest category of concern.

The construction costs are likely to be much higher than estimated because of the disruption caused by flood events of the kind we’re currently witnessing. Councillors ignored the reality of frequent flooding here when they approved the planning application, and now we’re seeing the consequences. The last official budget figure we’re aware of was around £4million; we have heard, from a usually reliable source, that the cost may have risen to around £6 million, even before the present flooding of the site. Is this a sensible use of tax payers’ money?

Flooding at the site began on  Monday, so it’s already been a working week that it would have been out of action if it had been built – that means lost revenue and an unreliable service. And time and money would then be needed for pumping out, clearing up and very likely making repairs before the extension could be safely reopened to the public. Further expense and further loss of revenue. Because the site is so low-lying, this will happen quite often.

Because it’s a car park and not a field there is increased risk to the public and to vehicles, and it remains to be seen how well the Council is able to manage flooding here. The water came up quite quickly at the start of the week, and in the interests of safety the extension would have had to be closed before that to avoid cars getting trapped in flood water, i.e. sometime early last week. And remember we are only on a Flood Alert, not a Flood Warning. Were people to try to enter even quite shallow floodwater to retrieve their cars things could go horribly wrong.

In the second photo above, from yesterday, you can see two large pipes floating in the lake, one in the centre, the other far over to the right against the boundary fence. If the flooding worsens these could float downstream and jam under the nearby bridge under the Botley Road, exacerbating flood risk. Were it already a car park, for pipes read cars.

We, and many others, fought this ill-conceived project hard. We hope the City Council will even now abandon it and restore the site to its previous state, as a valuable wildlife habitat, including for the badgers who have been driven out. To press on regardless means wasting ever more of Oxford’s citizens’ money, putting off for years any possible financial return to the Council, and meanwhile potentially both increasing flood risk and posing a risk to life and vehicles.

Trees

The Environment Agency has looked again at the question of trees in the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme (OFAS) – this is from their recent newsletter:

‘We have listened to local concerns about the impact the scheme will have on trees and recently conducted some additional tree surveys. Although trees will unfortunately have to be felled during the construction stage, we can confirm that our tree-planting proposals will ensure there will be more woodland within the scheme area after completion, than there currently is at present. 

By surveying individual trees by eye, we estimate that 2,000 trees will need to be felled. To mitigate for this we will be planting around 4,325 trees. In addition, 15,000 smaller trees, such as hawthorn, hazel and elder, will also be planted, along with many more native shrubs such as dogwood, goat willow, dog rose and wild privet. Throughout the design process, our contractors, engineers and ecologists have worked together to minimise tree loss wherever possible. Once a contractor has been appointed we will work with them to further minimise losses of trees wherever possible. 

Our aim is for the scheme to bring a true green legacy to the area. We are currently exploring options for the long term maintenance of the scheme to ensure it is not only maintained as a flood scheme, but continues to provide lasting environmental improvements well into the future.’

Saving Oxford’s freshwater habitat: FHT and OFAS

The Oxford Mail today carries an article about the Freshwater Habitats Trust’s (FHT) very positive involvement with OFAS:

Freshwater Habitats Trust is Saving Oxford’s Wetland Wildlife

Much more on FHT and OFAS here:

freshwaterhabitats.org.uk/projects/saving-oxfords-wetland-wildlife

Seacourt on today’s letters page

Two letters in today’s Oxford Times.

One from us on the fact that extra capacity is simply not needed.

See too the recent parking spaces data in an earlier post.

Would not live signs on the ring road, showing availability at the park and rides be a good idea, optimising the usage of the substantial existing capacity?

Contrary to claims in the Application, our analysis suggests that, for traffic from the south, in terms of time taken to reach the car park from the A34, Redbridge (the bigger of the two) is almost always a quicker option than Seacourt.

The other letter is from Adrian Rosser on the extensive clearance that’s been going on on the site before the Planning Committee has even met to consider the application.

OFAS: Environmental meeting

Attended an environmental update meeting yesterday, organised by the EA with a number of local environmental stakeholders attending. A lot of thought is going into making the most of possible environmental enhancements that the Scheme can bring.

Led by Penny Burt of the Environment Agency we covered surveys, ecological trial areas, archaeology, low-flows and existing watercourses, fish passage, Hinksey Meadow, trees and bridges, habitat creation and access. Also mentioned was future maintenance – we felt that the plans were not nearly long-term enough and this was discussed.

For our part we are working closely with the Freshwater Habitats Trust. The Oxford area is rich in freshwater species, though there is, nevertheless, a long term decline: this Scheme could help reverse that trend. We’d like to give the public, including school children, a chance to be involved, including with data collection in the field – sometimes called ‘citizen science’.

The damselflies in the photographs are closely associated with the freshwater habitat.