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 The JCBs have been withdrawn onto the higher ground of the existing car park, and heaps of building materials are abandoned in the water.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

Seacourt P&R extension – work halted

Make of this what you will – what is going on?….

https://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/17269391.park-and-ride-expansion-work-stopped-and-its-unclear-when-it-will-restart

“In papers, the council said it has stopped the work because it wants to get it ‘right’.”

Rather suggests they were getting it wrong (we’d agree with that).

From the agenda pack of the meeting of Oxford City Council’s Finance Panel of the Scrutiny Committee on Thursday 6 December:

[p. 17] “7. Direct Services Client – £0.494 million adverse variance arising from a decline in car parking income. It was originally envisaged that visitor numbers travelling into the city by car would significantly increase with the opening of Westgate and City Council car parks would benefit, however any increased business together with existing business appears to have gone to the Westgate car park. Worcester Street and Oxpens car park are both seeing a decline in usage which is having a significant impact on income.” 

[p. 18-19] “10. A thorough review has been made of the Capital Programme as at the end of September 2018 and this has led to a significant amount of slippage into future years. The projected outturn on the Capital Programme is currently a favourable variance of £15.945 million against the latest budget of £109.665 million. The main variances are:….. 

  • Extension of Seacourt Park and Ride – £3.217 million is to be slipped, this is the remaining balance of funding. It is important to get the detail of this project right and it is unlikely that works will commence in this financial year.”

 

 

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

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

Flood scheme and bridges

There’s an article in the Oxford Mail on the new bridges proposed as part of the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme at Willow Walk and North Hinksey Causeway. We agree with the Oxford Preservation Trust that it’s very important to get these right – with materials and design appropriate for these much-loved and ancient settings.

Note too that Oxford Preservation Trust is hosting a meeting to discuss plans for the channel at The Fishes, North Hinksey, on Thursday, May 31, from 6.30pm to 8pm. At least one of us plans to be there.

Representatives of OFA will be meeting with City Council officers and their consultants this afternoon to discuss our continuing serious concerns over the (now approved) Seacourt P&R extension. Cllr Colin Cook will also be there as will a representative for Layla Moran MP who is unable to attend in person: both strongly opposed the application.

There’s an article in today’s Oxford Mail

http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/16188420.Flood_hit_Seacourt_Park_and_Ride_site_would_have_been___39_closed_for_three_weeks__39__this_year/

 

 

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 extension site flooded

The site of the planned extension to Seacourt park and ride has been partially flooded for several days, today being the worst so far.

 

Secretary of State on Seacourt

Re Seacourt P&R extension application, we were informed on 9 March as follows:

“The Government remains committed to giving more power to councils and communities to make their own decisions on planning issues, and believe that planning decisions should be made at the local level wherever possible.  The call-in policy makes it clear that the power to call in a case will only be used very selectively. The Secretary of State has decided, having had regard to this policy, not to call in this application.  He is satisfied that the application should be determined at a local level.”

The Secretary of State in question is the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid. Of course his decision is disappointing to us.  The Secretary of State in 1998/99 did call-in, and refuse, a very similar application on the same site. The guidance on not building in the flood plain has become much tighter since then, following Sir Michael Pitt’s report on the nation-wide floods of July 2007. The permission that Oxford City Council has given itself is contrary to both national (NPPF) and local planning policy.  Note that the Secretary of State has not in any sense approved the plans, he has merely not intervened, leaving the decision to the local council.

We believe the Council has pushed through a perverse decision, contrary to planning guidance and a very great deal of substantial and principled opposition from local residents and local organisations. We believe that the Council may come to regret its decision. We will continue to make that case.