High river levels test flood preparedness

In the first week of February we’ve experienced the worst flooding in Oxford since 2014. The coordinated response from the Environment Agency and local authorities shows how far we’ve come in recent years in the management of flood events. We owe them a big thank you.

Back in the early 2000s flood management was reactive and often disorganised. But lessons were learned and we now benefit from much better levels of preparedness, and good cooperation between the various agencies. We also benefit from the infrastructure put in place to divert water away from houses, and from regular clearing of water courses of fallen trees and flood debris.

Bulstake Close barrier and pump

The high level of flooding this year has provided a robust test of flood management procedures. With UK winters getting wetter and wetter we can expect more of these type of events and bigger ones, so it’s important we continue to refine the response to make it as good as we can get it. This is something OFA is actively working on. The flood alleviation scheme is still some years away.

A major weak spot currently is the slow response of Thames Water to residents experiencing sewage leaks. We have had reports of sewers in various locations overflowing as a result of the high flood water. Householders reporting these problems have found Thames Water difficult to engage. OFA is raising these issues with the various bodies responsible for flood management. Oxfordshire MP Robert Courts has insisted Thames Water ‘must do more’ according to a BBC report. We agree.

Flooding from sewer South Hinksey

We also think communication to local residents during a flood event about what’s happening and what’s being done in response could be improved. These events are also an opportunity to educate residents, particularly new residents, about the nature of the flood risk in their area. OFA has initiated discussions about this with the Environment Agency and other interested parties.

At a local level the response in some specific communities can be further refined to ensure the most vulnerable households are known about, and receive timely and targeted help. The new barrier in South Hinksey had its first serious test. It did the job required of it but will need some further adjustments if it’s to be effective in a larger flood. The Environment Agency is looking at this.

We continue to be concerned about safety issues at the Seacourt Park and Ride extension once it is open. We believe there is a significant risk of cars being stranded in flood water there. The Seacourt Stream overflowed into part of the existing car park during the recent foods, leaving parked cars standing in shallow water. The bike rack by the bus stop was also flooded.

Cars standing in flood water at Seacourt P&R

Adrian Porter, from the OFA Steering Group, was interviewed on BBC Oxford on 5 February about the flooding across Oxford and about our ongoing campaigns.

Richard Thurston rejoins Steering Group

Richard Thurston, who was one of the founder members of OFA, has rejoined the Steering Group to provide additional capacity following the death of Peter Rawcliffe. Richard was very active in the early years of OFA but took a break to focus on his young family and a new and demanding job. We’re very pleased to have him back to the Steering Group. Richard lives on Osney Island.

Peter Rawcliffe

It is with great sadness that we report the death of Peter Rawcliffe on 14 December 2020. Peter was a founding member of the Oxford Flood Alliance and he played a pivotal role in the organisation throughout its history. He did a great deal to advance the interests of flood affected communities in Oxford. Peter was a thoughtful and courteous individual, always willing to listen to others’ views. But also a forceful and determined advocate for what he believed to be right. We owe him a great deal. He will be greatly missed.

Photo: Kirsty Edmonds/Oxford Mail

OFA Update / OFAS & Flood Exercise

This update has recently been sent to those on our mailing list.

Dear OFA contact,

We last sent out an update in Oct 2019, just after the news about the problems with the A423 bridge (southern bypass) and likely delays to the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme (OFAS). OFA is still active and has been participating in meetings of the Sponsoring Group for the OFAS scheme and has also held separate meetings with the Environment Agency team about water course maintenance since our last update.

Despite the A423 issues, and the challenges presented by coronavirus, the OFAS scheme continues to progress. The EA and the County Council have agreed a collaborative approach to replacing the A423 bridge and constructing the OFAS scheme. This should save on costs for OFAS, and reduce the level of maintenance required in future.

The EA withdrew the original planning application earlier in the year and is currently revising this to incorporate the new A423 arrangements, and to update the documents on some other aspects of the scheme. Once these are resubmitted to the planning authority the public will have a fresh opportunity to comment on the plans. The EA is continuing to meet with objectors to the scheme with a view to trying to address outstanding areas of public concern.

Because OFAS is now expected to be delivered two years later than originally expected it is important that effective flood response procedures are in place in case a major flood event happens in the next few years. The EA, Fire Brigade and the local Council officials will be holding a practice response on 20 August to test aspects of current procedures. Because of coronavirus these will not involve the pubic.

The text of a recent update from the Environment Agency is pasted below which provides some additional information on OFAS and other matters,

OFA Steering Group

Oxford Scheme update

A423 bridge replacement

Oxfordshire County Council began the propping work on the A423 Kennington Railway Bridge in July.

Replacement of the A423 Bridge has provided an opportunity to design and build the bridge and the flood scheme together. This allows us to reduce disruption during construction and ensure the best use of public money. The updated design will use open channels instead of culverts to allow the flow of floodwater under the bridge. This will provide a better environment for wildlife and requires less maintenance.

The bridge is at the southern end of the scheme and during a flood, water would need to pass underneath it to re-join the River Thames. This capacity needs to be in place before the scheme is constructed to avoid increasing flood risk elsewhere. We also need to have all approvals, including planning permission and our Compulsory Purchase Order secured.

South Hinksey Archaeology

If you’ve been walking near South Hinksey, you may have spotted our contractors on site. We are carrying out archaeology surveys in a field near South Hinksey village to check whether the area is suitable for us to use as the main compound for when we construct the scheme. The archaeology surveys will determine whether there are any historical artefacts in the field. We want to ensure there’s no risk of us damaging any artefacts or remains. Once we have finished the investigations, we will remove our equipment from the site and reinstate the fields.

Kendall Copse Ground Investigations

To complement the new A423 bridge replacement, we are reviewing the design of the scheme around Kendall Copse, near Kennington.

From 10 August, we will be digging trial pits and drilling boreholes to understand the ground conditions beneath the site in order to finalise these designs.

Oxford Flood Incident Exercise

To ensure our flood protection plans are well-tested, the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme partners and emergency responders will be practicing their incident response plans on 20 August 2020.

The flood response exercise will consist of:

 •temporary flood barriers in South Hinksey and Bullstake Close

•pumps to remove flood water along Botley Road

Due to the current Government guidance on public gatherings, we won’t be able to invite members of the community to attend. We will be sharing updates on Twitter and Facebook as the exercise progresses. We will also share video footage of the temporary barriers and pumps so you can see our field teams in action.

Managing your flood risk

During the summer months, flood risk might be low on your list of priorities, but Environment Agency officers are thinking about it year-round. Throughout the year our operations staff carry out inspections and clear debris to keep main rivers moving. To report a blockage that could cause flooding call our 24 incident hotline: 0800 80 70 60.

You can also find out what maintenance is planned in your area: environment.data.gov.uk/asset-management/index.html

Stay prepared by signing up for flood alerts and preparing a flood plan: https://flood-warning-information.service.gov.uk

  

Want to know more?

If you have any questions or want to be added to our mailing list, please contact us at: OxfordScheme@environment-agency.gov.uk

Objecting to Seacourt P&R extension – our latest comments

 

We remain strongly opposed to the planning application by Oxford City Council to extend its Seacourt Park and Ride into Oxford’s vital flood plain. There has been a nibble, nibble attrition of the flood plain over many years leading to worse flooding. That the City Council should itself be seeking to extend a car park into the flood plain that protects our city is quite extraordinary.

Here are our latest comments:

OFA comments on FRA Nov 2017 Final

OFA comment on PS Addendum Nov 2017 Final

Redbridge vs. Seacourt P&R from south + Maps

Letter to EA 30 November 2017_final

Lime stabilization considerations Nov17

Now we are 10

The original meeting at which an Oxford flood grouping, soon named the Oxford Flood Alliance, was agreed on, was held in the Waterman’s Arms (now The Punter), Osney Island, on Thursday 29 November 2007. Simon Collings, Nick Hills, John Mastroddi and Peter Rawcliffe have been involved from the start.

Andy Webber, Mike Hamblett (also both in at the start) and Brian Durham are no longer on the Steering Group but have each made very significant contributions over the years.

Adrian Porter and Liz Sawyer are the newest, and valued, members of our team.

Very importantly our personal partners have been there with vital support throughout – thank you all.

A great deal has happened in the 10 years, with authorities now well working together to reduce risk and cope with floods when they arrive. We never dreamt in 2007 how much this would become a part of our lives – innumerable meetings and phone calls and thousands of emails later, we are working  with people who are now close partners, some of whom we met at the start, others along the way. We have been called ‘a critical friend’ and are pleased by that.

We continue to work to promote what we see as the best for the people and the city of Oxford and area: currently of course the multi-million multi-partner Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme. More on that in a later post.

Nevertheless, we have not sold out to the authorities! – we oppose things we see as contrary to our prime aim – to reduce flood risk. The current example is our total opposition to Oxford City Council’s proposal to extend Seacourt Park and Ride into the floodplain. No one has been able to produce another example of such a travesty anywhere else in the country. If allowed it would set a very dangerous precedent nationally.

We expect our 11th (we had two one year) Annual Public Meeting will be in February 2018.

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

OFA Update, August 2017

We have just sent this to the people on our mailing list:

Since our last update in February this year we have seen further steady progress on the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme (OFAS), designed to reduce flood risk for hundreds of properties in Oxford and nearby. We have been involved in several ways:
  • As part of the Sponsoring Group, the body representing the various partners in the scheme and having overall responsibility for it.
  • Urging that maintenance be provided for in perpetuity rather than just 10 years. We have proposed setting up a dedicated body to be responsible for this; this idea has received good support. We are discussing with the Environment Agency and partners other possible approaches, and if an independent body, what corporate structure might be best.
  • We have been working with the Freshwater Habitats Trust and the Environment Agency to try to ensure that the scheme (while it will regrettably involve some environmental losses) can incorporate significant environmental enhancements too, including the important freshwater habitat.
  • We are supporting the EA if their efforts to close the funding gap for the scheme – currently at $4m. This money needs to be found by the end of November if the scheme is to go ahead.
  • We have participated in a number of public consultation events about the route of the scheme.
OFAS is running to schedule, and assuming the money is found the next major step is application for planning permission, probably in spring 2018.
 
Local matters
Earl Street has 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 our Steering Group, applied successfully for a generous grant, £20,000, from Scottish & Southern Electricity Networks.
South Hinksey groundworks have been completed, meaning the village is now ‘temporary barrier ready’ when floods next threaten. Many thanks to the Vale of the White Horse District Council for funding and to the Environment Agency, especially engineer Magnus Williams, for all the hard work that’s made this happen.
Both areas can now look forward to the coming winter with more confidence.
Seacourt Park & Ride
As reported previously we opposed the application by Oxford City Council to extend this P&R into the flood plain. The application did not, in our view, show that flood risk would not be increased. We believe that a revised application will be advertised at some point and we will scrutinise this with care. The timeframe for this is currently not clear.
Local MPs
Following the elections this year we have two new MPs, Anneliese Dodds for Oxford East, and Layla Moran for Oxford West & Abingdon; we are in the process of meeting and briefing them on flood related matters. Both MPs are supportive of the need for a flood scheme.
OFA Steering Group

Our “2016” Annual Public Meeting – in Feb 2017

We hold an Annual Public Meeting, which has been in November up to now. This makes it close to the annual Oxford Area Flood Partnership meeting and the two have increasingly overlapped in content. We decided then that our “2016” meeting would be better held later. It will be on Wednesday 22 February 2017 at 7pm for 7.30. The venue as before, the Demos’ Club on Osney Island, Oxford. We will have speakers from the Environment Agency (on the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme), Thames Water (on their sewer survey) and Network Rail (on their track raising, waterway clearance and culvert installation). Everybody is very welcome.