Concern in the Oxford area

There is increasing concern today that water levels are high in the Oxford area, with a good deal more water still to come down to Oxford from the Cotswolds catchment. The area is presently (midday) on an EA Flood Alert (the lowest level of concern).

We’re seeing more flooding globally, Venice is badly hit at the moment – and the awful flooding in the north of England continues.

There is no doubt that the climate is changing. Oxford has always flooded but the change will make it more common and more severe. The immediate threat may recede now, let’s hope so, but it highlights again that it’s imperative that Oxford is better protected, not only for the many people directly affected but for the city itself to continue to function and thrive into the future.

The multi-partner Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme is in process and all concerned are working hard to make it happen as soon as humanly possible. As we have said before, “it can’t come soon enough.”

 

 

Severe flooding in Yorkshire

Exceptional rainfall has caused widespread and serious flooding in the north of England. It seems pretty clear (from this, and many other events worldwide) that climate change is happening here and now https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-50343977

Meanwhile in New South Wales a very different emergency, which again seems almost certain to be climate change related https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-australia-50341207

The list goes on.

Flood defences are sorely needed for Oxford’s river flooding, and more than ever now that we’re faced with more frequent extreme weather events. The Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme is being developed to provide that defence.

 

 

Vicki Arroyo: “Let’s prepare for our new climate”

Vicki Arroyo is the Executive Director of the Georgetown Climate Center at Georgetown Law, where she also serves as the Assistant Dean of Centers and Institutes and a Professor from Practice. See here for more about her: https://www.georgetownclimate.org/about-us/staff.html

In the video below she talks about preparing for and adapting to climate change. She ends with:

“The larger point I’m trying to make is this. It’s up to us to look at our homes and our communities, our vulnerabilities and our exposures to risk, and to find ways to not just survive, but to thrive, and it’s up to us to plan and to prepare and to call on our government leaders and require them to do the same, even while they address the underlying causes of climate change. There are no quick fixes. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions. We’re all learning by doing. But the operative word is doing.”

As a flood plain city Oxford is very vulnerable: seven main rivers meet at Oxford, with a combined upstream catchment of about 2,500 km2. For over 10 years our Alliance has been talking to, calling on, and working with, the authorities responsible – from the Directors of the Environment Agency to local government and other bodies –  to make Oxford better prepared for what climate change will bring. A good deal has already been done but more is needed; the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme will enable Oxford to continue to thrive. Without it we may be, almost literally, sunk.

OFAS and development

Development

People have suggested that the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme (OFAS, the Scheme) could lead to, or facilitate, new development in the flood plain, which would add to urbanisation and reduce the amount of open space in west and south Oxford.

OFAS is about reducing flood risk to existing properties, business and infrastructure. It is not being proposed with the goal of creating opportunities for future development. There are a few areas which would benefit from the scheme where some development or redevelopmentmight take place in future, subject to the normal planning approvals being obtained. But this is incidental to the flood scheme.

Osney Mead

One of the areas where it’s claimed development will be facilitated is Osney Mead. Oxford University has publicly said that it has aspirations to redevelop this area. It is an already developed site, hosting a large number of businesses currently facing risk of flooding.

The University are paying for an additional bund (and all associated costs) to be created along the western edge of Ferry Hinksey Rd. This additional feature will increase protection from flooding for businesses currently operating from Osney Mead, and has been taken on board by OFAS for this reason alone. Any redevelopment would be of a brownfield site. Proposals for redevelopment would have to go through the planning process, demonstrate consistency with the existing Local Plan, and show they do not increase flood risk.

Elsewhere

The main area in the flood plain that is not presently built on, but which will be protected by OFAS from flooding in future, is on the river (east) side of the Abingdon Road, south of the hotel and including University College sports ground and Cowmead allotments.

This area (about the size of Osney Mead) will be protected by a bund along its eastern edge. We understand it would be very difficult, and more costly, to put the bund closer to the road. But even with the current OFAS design there is no certainty that this land will be developed.Any plans to develop these sites would be subject to local planning permission, and while OFAS could make the conditions easier to meet, it does not follow that development will happen here.

The vast majority of the flood plain will continue to flood – and that will be essential for the Scheme to work as planned. Although the Scheme area, where changes will be made, does not occupy all the flood plain meadowland, these flood meadows are nevertheless an integral part of the scheme design and need to be able to flood as they do now.

There will be no change to the Green Belt around Oxford as a result of the construction of OFAS.

The open, green flood plain meadows will be no more open to development than they are now, indeed arguably the fact that they will now be part of a specific, designed and paid-for flood scheme will make development there much less, not more, likely.

And if, as intended, the scheme area is expertly managed for wildlife, by organisations such as the Freshwater Habitats Trust or BBOWT, as well as for recreation (including fishing), the greater its chance of resisting the threat of unscrupulous developers.

There are other recent posts relating to OFAS –

Clarifications and explanations

Gravel mining – Be careful what you wish for

An Oxfordshire gravel mine, 2018

Oxford can – and must – be prepared

The BBC reports further today on the serious Welsh floods

“Communities will want new flood defences after many Welsh rivers burst their banks during Storm Callum, Wales’ environment agency has warned.

Parts of Wales saw the worst flooding for 30 years ….

A 21-year-old man was killed after a landslip and many homes and businesses were flooded as Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and south Powys bore the brunt of the storm on Friday and over the weekend.”

We’ve been proactive in Oxford so we’re much further ahead – the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme is currently being considered for planning approval. Whether the Welsh floods are in part related to climate change would require event attribution analysis to give an estimate of the probability that that is the case. But certainly it’s the sort of event that one would expect with climate change. It’s vital that Oxford’s as ready as it can be.

South Hinksey ‘barrier-ready’ works all but complete

In South Hinksey, the works designed to make deploying temporary defences, should flooding threaten, quicker and easier, are almost complete.

Three flap valves have just been installed on pipes which connect into field ditches. These non-return valves will allow water out from within any temporary barrier but not allow it back in from the flooded area outside.

Elsewhere wide garden gates have been installed, reinforced fences built, and removable fence panels fitted.

A very few minor snagging items remain, but the scheme is otherwise complete and fully ready for temporary barriers. Many thanks to the Vale of White Horse District Council for funding and to the Environment Agency for organising the work – not least to engineer Magnus Williams who has managed the scheme from its inception to its completion. Thanks too to farmer Nick Frearson, and to the horse owners for their cooperation during the works.

Dedicated pump for Earl Street

http://www.itv.com/news/meridian/2017-01-13/oxford-street-gets-dedicated-flood-pump-after-securing-grant/

The link provides an excellent report, including a video, about the arrival of a new pump, dedicated to flood protection for Earl Street.  In case that stops being available online here is an extract from the report, with acknowledgement and thanks to ITV:

“Today residents in Earl Street were shown a new, dedicated, mobile pump that will be available to them in the event of future floods.

Nick Hills, an Earl Street resident and member of the Oxford Flood Alliance Steering Group, applied for a grant to pay for the pump after becoming aware of Scottish and Southern Energy Network’s Community Resilience Fund. The energy company awards grants of up to £20,000 to community projects. His bid was successful and SSE awarded the full cost of the pump, which had been reduced to £19,830 by Stuart Pumps Ltd, which provides the City Council with its pumps.

Whilst we in Earl Street have been extremely well served by the local authorities in terms of flood avoidance, protection and resilience, there have been occasions in the early stages of a flood when we were desperately waiting for a decision to be made by both the Environment Agency and the City Council as to where they should deploy their limited number of mobile auxiliary pumps.
Understandably, it was impossible for either of these agencies to guarantee that we would have a pump deployed here in Earl Street while the situation was still evolving.
Now we have our own pump, as soon as the water starts to rise, we can say ‘can we have our pump?’ and it guarantees that it will be here when we need it.  – Nick Hills

 
Local MP, Nicola Blackwood, attended the pump’s unveiling today. She said while shorter-term flood projects like this are crucial, a planned flood relief channel will be a ‘game-changer’ when it comes to reducing flooding risk in the long-term.The £120m project would work by diverting flood water across the open flood plain and away from properties which currently flood.”

Finally, a big thanks from all concerned to Scottish & Southern Electricity Networks, who very generously funded the pump from their Community Resilience Fund.
 

Letter to the Oxford Times (8 Dec)

Letter from us published in the Oxford Times of 8 December 2016

The proposed extension to Seacourt Park & Ride is one of the worst planning proposals we’ve seen for some time. In 2013, after much public consultation, the City Council adopted a Core Strategy to guide development in the city over the next period. Core Strategy 2 includes the statement: “Greenfield land will not be allocated for development if any part of the development would be on Flood Zone 3b.” The proposed extension to the Park & Ride is a greenfield site in Flood Zone 3b, the functional flood plain. How can this be? The planning documents don’t explain. Although the documents include a review of relevant local policies, Core Strategy 2 mysteriously doesn’t get a mention. What’s driving the application is a worry about short-term problems with traffic congestion on the Botley Rd pending completion of new Park & Rides at Eynsham and Cumnor. How does this short-term need justify departing from core strategy? National planning policy is designed to encourage local authorities to take a strategic approach to planning, thereby avoiding the need for this kind of last minute quick-fix nibbling away at the floodplain.

Apart from the obvious conflict with planning policy, the application is riddled with errors. The Flood Risk Assessment says that the most recent flooding event at the site was 2008, ignoring the major disruption in the winter of 2012/13, and the serious floods in early 2014. The FRA completely fails to take account of the fact that the site floods frequently, and proposes a design which will quickly degrade as a results of flood damage and silting. There is serious risk in the event of a major flood of large sections of the car park breaking up and washing into the flood channel. It’s a nonsense and needs to be stopped.

Seacourt P&R – Key Point 1: a clash with OFAS?

 

The first image is a part of a plan, from the Environment Agency, of the proposed Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme (OFAS) north of the Botley Road. This shows (as at 16 September 2016) that a key flood defence bund is planned for that scheme, running through the area where the car park extension is proposed.

The second image shows the area for the proposed extension to the Seacourt P&R.

It is not clear that the bund and the car park extension could co-exist. OFAS will reduce the risk of flooding in Oxford, vital for people and the future prosperity of the city, not least in the face of climate change. The car park extension proposal is flawed in many ways;  the plan should be dropped.

See Key Point 2 and Key Point 3

Application by Oxford City Council to extend Seacourt Park & Ride

Application by Oxford City Council to extend Seacourt Park & Ride  (Oxford City Planning application no. 16/02745/CT3).

We are strongly opposed to this application to build a car park extension right in the Oxford floodplain.

Our key points are:

Inappropriate development in the floodplain – contrary to Oxford City Council Core Strategy, CS2 – this is a greenfield site. It is also contrary to City Council Core Strategy 11 – it is neither ‘essential infrastructure’ nor ‘a water compatible structure’.

Not consistent with national planning policy framework (NPPF) guidelines.

Inappropriate development in the Green Belt.

A planning application for a similar scheme on the same site was rejected by the Secretary of State in 1999. Planning law has become tighter since.

County Transport Strategy envisages new P&R sites at Cumnor and Eynsham over the next few years; the present proposal is at variance with that. Traffic coming off the A34 and A420 may face increased delays in reaching the P&R.

Flood-risk assessment flawed:

  • fails to note the serious floods since 2008
  • does not properly consider the frequency with which this low lying site actually floods, which is often (it’s functional floodplain)
  • permeable pavement recommended only slows run-off when flood event are so low risk it’s irrelevant. As soon as a significant flood event starts to develop the car park will be under water.

Emergency evacuation plan is inadequate and lacks detail. The site is at high risk of flooding, being 0.5-1 m lower than the existing car park. There is a significant risk to vehicles and people during a flood event: any emergency plan has to be very robust. Extra resources could be needed from already stretched emergency services. In a 1 in 100 flood the water would be 2m deep.

The ground is subject to movement and would require further investigation to see if remediable stabilisation would even work.

The site itself may be damaged by prolonged or severe flooding, even with surfaces broken and swept away. The fences proposed for the perimeter of the 2 ha site, and structures on the site, would be very vulnerable in a large scale flood.

The proposed permeable surface will be impaired by silt and other debris: it will require cleaning which may or may not restore its permeability. After prolonged flooding such paving may even have to be replaced (in early 2014 this site would have been under a significant depth of water for several months).

If fences, structures on the site, and cars were swept away they could end up blocking the nearby Seacourt which is a vital flood channel.

The proposal does not take proper account of the latest plans for the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme in this area.

The rationale for this extension being needed is that the present car park cannot be given a decking storey because of a covenant on the land. No such covenant has been produced by the applicant and we cannot find one. What there is is a lease agreement, with could potentially be varied by negotiation with the landlord, which could make this whole scheme unnecessary.

Oxford is at risk of flooding. The principle of not building on greenfield sites in the floodplain must be adhered to.

These reasons are set out in more detail in the following documents submitted to the planning authority, Oxford City Council (links download pdfs).

  1. Our initial objections (28 Nov 2016)
  2. Further points (5 Dec 2016)
  3. Address to Council (5 Dec 2016)

We are working hard to get our message across to the decision makers and to other people who may wish to comment. If you agree with us that this development should not be allowed to go ahead please do say so via the Oxford City planning website or speak to your local City Councillor.