And in France too

Another extreme weather event reported by the BBC today:

France weather: Red alert as flash floods kill 13 in south-west

“At least 13 people have been killed by flash floods in the Aude region of south-western France. 

Local authorities say several months’ worth of rain fell in just a few hours overnight …”

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Raining hard

It’s raining steadily and hard here today, not enough to flood us but, after the severe flooding in Wales, a further reminder of the threat to Oxford.

Many, many houses and businesses, roads and railway were flooded in seven of the years between 2000 and 2014.

With climate change predicting far worse to come, Oxford needs protection.

This was Oxford in 2007

Severe flooding in Wales – a timely reminder

We’ve had a dry summer, river flows are low and flooding may seem a long way off. But it’s always a threat as this article on the BBC website today, about severe flooding in Wales, reminds one:

Storm Callum: Parts of Wales see ‘worst flooding in 30 years’

Whether this event is due in some part to climate change may be impossible to know for sure, but there is no doubt that extreme weather events are becoming more frequent across the world. Now is the time to prepare Oxford for that future.

The planning application for the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme is being scrutinised; if approved Oxford’s flood risk will be reduced. Without it Oxford will remain largely undefended and future generations will rightly ask why something wasn’t done while the opportunity was there.

See too https://oxfordfloodalliance.org.uk/2015/12/08/flooding-from-storm-desmond/

Weirs Mill Stream obstructed

We’re supporting John Burbank (manager of the Weirs Orchard residential moorings) in his determined efforts, for safety reasons, to get clearance of obstructions above Weirs Mill Stream in the Thames navigation channel by Long Bridges, particularly the trees in the photograph, above Donnington Bridge. We’ve written more than once to the Environment Agency (EA), most recently a few days ago, because we believe that obstructions of this degree, taken together, increase flood risk. John’s concern is primarily with safe navigation where the problem is obvious.

While the EA could clear this they are very probably not obliged to do so, the responsibility is likely to rest with the riparian owner on each bank – but we hope that if the EA don’t do the work themselves they will use their powers to ensure that these trees are cleared as soon as possible.

Seacourt P&R: Planning Review Committee meeting

Oxford City Council’s Planning Review Committee met last night to reconsider the application to extend Seacourt park and ride. This had previously been approved by West Area Planning Committee but a review had been requested by concerned councillors.

The review committee confirmed the previous decision.

There is a report in the Oxford Mail.

We believe this decision is a huge mistake and we are disturbed by aspects of the decision-making process.

There is no lack of parking spaces here, nor overall. Should it ever be needed, better usage of existing parking could easily be achieved by live signage on the ring road. We have collected online data and visited the site over the very busy pre and post Christmas periods – the existing car park has never once been full. Opening of the new Westgate has not caused problems and many people clearly choose to drive into the city rather then use park and ride.

The cost is huge, £4.1 million is already budgeted. And there are many other urgent calls on the public purse. People are homeless and sleeping on the streets just a mile away.

The site floods from groundwater – an aspect that has received scant attention, despite our highlighting it repeatedly. Because of groundwater flooding there will be a net loss of floodplain if this development goes ahead. The site will also flood when the rivers flood. This will make it expensive to pump out, maintain and repair.

The decision is undoubtedly contrary to national planning guidance (NPPF) which is there to protect the floodplain and Green Belt. A previous extremely similar application on the site was the subject of a Planning Enquiry in 1998 and refused by the Secretary of State in 1999. Since 2007 the guidance has been strengthened following the Pitt Report on the Oxford and nation-wide flooding in 2007.

It is possible that the present application will be Called-in by the present Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid:  we have requested, jointly with Layla Moran MP, that this should happen. If the application is Called-in a Public Enquiry will follow. The reason for our request is that a decision to develop a car park in the floodplain sets a serious national precedent. Building in the floodplain is deplorable, except in the most exceptional cases – which this most certainly is not.

If the extension does eventually go ahead it is not impossible that the Council will in time come to regret it – as construction costs rise, maintenance is expensive due to recurrent flooding (exacerbated by climate change) and occupancy is low. But that will be no comfort  – much better it should never happen in the first place.

 

Risk of local property flooding

From the Planning Officer’s report to the West Area Planning Committee, December 2017:

“9.149. During the consultation process, reference has been made to the suggestion within the Factual and Interpretive Ground Investigation Report that the proposed drainage strategy will require the use of lime stabilisation to avoid damage to the paving within the car park expansion from changes to the clay layer below ground and that this needs to be given further consideration as part of any drainage proposals for the site. The concerns raised are that lime treatment is likely to have an impact on the permeability of soils below the car park, and therefore needs to be appropriately considered. 

The applicant has confirmed that the surface water drainage strategy has been designed as a tanked system which assumes no infiltration below the attenuation layer, with all storm water discharge from the site via a controlled outfall into Seacourt Stream. An impermeable membrane is included within the construction to prevent water saturating the clay. The underlying clay is of a low permeability whether lime stabilisation is employed or not, and it is envisaged that the attenuation will operate effectively in either scenario.” [emphasis added]

There is no mention in the Application of tanking, nor of an impermeable membrane. We have therefore not known of this till very recently and had no opportunity to comment. While there is little or no detail, the idea that the car park may be separated from the underlying groundwater table, as this implies, raises an extremely serious question. That is, where will the displaced groundwater go? This is a lot of water over such a large area. It is likely that it will cause a significant rise in groundwater levels around this low-lying site. This could cause (new) groundwater flooding within houses (and gardens) nearby. No decision should be taken until the details of  what is planned are made clear, appropriate calculations and modelling done, and presented as part of a further revised Flood Risk Assessment.

[By the same token, when it rains, water will be trapped within the tanking , draining only slowly – more pumping needed?]

Our comments on Oxford Local Plan 2036

Oxford Local Plan 2036
“Oxford City Council is producing a new Local Plan for Oxford. The Local Plan is important because it will shape how Oxford develops.” (from the ‘Preferred Options’ document for the Plan, Oxford City Council). The Council called for comments and we wrote recently as follows:

We wish to submit the following comments in relation to the proposed Oxford Local Plan 2036. Our comments all relate to flood risk.

Overall we are satisfied that the City Council has adopted an appropriate strategic approach to development and flood risk in the city, with new development targeted towards areas least at risk from flooding. We welcome the recognition in the document that flooding is a significant risk for the city and that this needs to be managed.
 
On the specific sections relating to flooding in the Preferred Option, we would like to see reference to the need to actively maintain watercourses in the city so that they function freely during times of flooding. We’re surprised that the SFRA Decembrer 2016 makes no mention of the need for clearing of trash gates, and the removal of vegetation and fallen trees from streams and ditches. Riparian owners in the city need to be encouraged to maintain water courses.
 
On Option 38A we would prefer to see adoption of a policy which states that there will be no development of previously undeveloped land in flood zone 3b. As the SFRA notes, this is the position in the current Core Strategy and we see no argument for weakening this.The new plan does not designate greenfield sites in zone 3b for development.
We recognise that water compatible structures and essential infrastructure may, in exceptional circumstance, be permitted in zone 3b under the NPPF. But the Council’s recent attempts to argue that an extension to the Seacourt Park & Ride constituted ‘essential infrastructure’ caused the Oxford Flood Alliance considerable concern. While references to NPPF in the Council’s proposed Local Plan may appear to provide safeguards to the public, these are significantly weakened if the Council intends to ‘interpret’ NPPF along the lines argued for the P&R extension or similar. We believe the plan document needs to provide clarity on this.

 If Preferred Option 38A is adopted as proposed we wish to state for the record that we interpret this to mean that NPPF will be strictly applied. It is clear in Table 2 and 3 in this Guidance Note what ‘Water Compatible’ and ‘Essential Infrastructure’ mean. We are therefore interpreting the Council’s policy to mean what the NPPF guidance says it means. This does not include car parks.

In Option 56A we would like to see a reference to riparian owners responsibility to maintain water courses. Simply treating them as a design feature isn’t sufficient.

 

OFA Steering Group

Seacourt P&R extension proposal: potential risk to life

Liz Sawyer, who recently joined the OFA Steering Group, addressed Oxford City’s Full Council on 6 February 2017, about the potential risk to life posed by the proposed extension to Seacourt P&R.

There is also, as the photograph above shows so vividly, the potential for damage to the car park itself – and of course to vehicles. The Automobile Association’s ‘Flood Facts’ quoted in Liz’s address set out the risks of floodwaters very clearly.

Liz’s address can be downloaded here (pdf).

New flood advice website

Oxfordshire County Council, our Lead Local Flood Authority (LLFA), have just launched a new flood website which should be very useful, providing a single place where people can go for advice. The link is https://www.oxfordshirefloodtoolkit.com.

The Oxford Mail has an article on it http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/14942940.FLOOD_victim_who_fortified_his_home_urges_others_to_use_new_council_online___39_toolkit__39_/