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 The JCBs have been withdrawn onto the higher ground of the existing car park, and heaps of building materials are abandoned in the water.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.

‘Oxford and the Thames: a national hotspot for freshwater wildlife’

Talk on 29 June by Jeremy Biggs of the Freshwater Habitats Trust

Jeremy Biggs gave an interesting and inspiring talk, ‘Oxford and the Thames: a national hotspot for freshwater wildlife’, in South Hinksey yesterday; it was well attended by professionals and members of the public alike.

The overall message was that the Oxford area, including (but much wider than) the area of the OFAS channel, is of relatively high quality (on a national scale) for freshwater wildlife. Nevertheless, there have been local extinctions and a gradual decline over the last century. Clean, unpolluted water is vital to any attempt to reverse the decline.

A lively discussion followed.

To make the most of the possible environmental enhancements from the OFAS scheme more detailed proposals will be developed. More could be achieved if additional, separate funding could be obtained. Such work could make a contribution to reversing the gradual decline and enable lessons to be learnt as to how to do this best.

See also Oxford and the Thames_talk flyer_Jun16 FINAL