Flood compensation for new Oxpens development

The proposed redevelopment of the Oxpens area involves the lowering of some land to compensate for the raising of other areas to lift them out of the flood plain. The initial round of consultation in the summer attracted a fair amount of comment on the need to preserve floodplain capacity as this helps reduce risk of property flooding.

A new set of consultation documents has just been issued and OFA is pleased to note that flood compensation has been calculated on what is known as a ‘level for level’ basis. In other words any land which is raised will be compensated for by lowering land within the same height band elsewhere on the site. We understand the Environment Agency insisted on this.

One of our major concerns with the Seacourt Park & Ride extension was that compensation was not calculated on this basis resulting in a loss of floodplain capacity. The Environment Agency allowed this at the time despite our protests. We’re please that for this new development the appropriate industry recommended approach has been adopted. The compensation includes an additional allowance for climate change and should help with reducing flood risk in the city if the development goes ahead.

Seacourt car park safety concerns

One important area of concern for us during the planning process for the Seacourt park & ride extension was the safety of users of the car park. The speed with which the site flooded on Christmas Eve underlines the risk here. In the planning application the Council argued that: ‘Historically, river levels have risen fairly slowly in this location even during extreme events, giving sufficient warning for mitigation measures to be put in place.’ But the recent flood did not conform to this pattern.

Are the Council’s safety measures at the car park robust enough? We doubt it. Had the park and ride extension been operating there would probably have been several cars bobbing about down there. Flood barriers were only erected by the City Council at Bulstake Close after the flooding had already happened.

At the peak of the flooding river levels were so high water from the Seacourt stream west of the existing car park started to encroach onto the parking area (see photo below). There were several cars parked there. Had river levels been higher these cars would have been stranded. Flood management plans for the park and ride need to be reviewed.

Seacourt car park extension flooding

The recent flooding of the extension to Seacourt Park & Ride is further evidence that the City Council seriously underestimated the vulnerability of the site to flooding. The area flooded rapidly during the night of Christmas Eve, and as of today is still partly inundated though water is now being pumped out.

View of the extension down the main access ramp on Christmas Day

The Flood Risk Assessment (FRA) submitted with the Planning Application stated: ‘An analysis of historic flooding incidents relevant to the site suggests that the site will currently flood roughly once in every 1.7 years and will remain out of operation for around 10 days during an average flood event.’ That’s just under 6 days a year average.

Over the course of last winter (2019/20) the site was inundated four times and for prolonged periods. This latest incident represents a further 12 days of flooding. In our opposition to the planning application we argued that the Council had grossly underestimated the likely extent of flooding at the site. Events seem to be proving us right.

Frozen

The Seacourt car park extension site has been pumped out for a few days following Storm Brendan which has brought huge amounts of water from our extensive catchment in the Cotswolds. But today the site is again filled with water, which has frozen overnight.

Seacourt P&R extension – further updates

Work began again briefly as mentioned in the last post. Water was pumped from the site into a ditch newly dug nearby and leading to Seacourt Stream.

River levels have now risen further. Pumping has stopped and the site is again abandoned.

Were it a car park it would be unusable of course.

This post will be updated periodically (see photos).

Work resumed on 7 January 2020. This latest flood was another 18 days, taking total flooding of the site this winter to 6 weeks 5 days. The prediction in the planning application was for 2 weeks a year. It remains to be seen how it averages out over a number of years.

Work resumed at Seacourt P&R today

Work resumed at Seacourt P&R extension today, 4 weeks and a day after it had to stop because the site had flooded. Here is the sequence from 11 November to today.

Update on Seacourt P&R extension

Following up on our post of the 15th about the Seacourt P&R extension:

First, a budget figure of £5,156,122 was approved by Council in February 2019. That’s the last official figure we know of.

Second, the area remains flooded as this picture from this morning shows.

Edit – still flooded 25/11/19.

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.”