The Environment Agency will be leading an online engagement exercise later this month to update the public on the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme. Elements of the scheme have been redesigned because the A423 bridge (southern bypass) crossing the railway was found to have structural weaknesses. Problems with the bridge were identified by Oxfordshire County Council late in 2019 requiring a redesign of the flood relief project.
The replacement bridge creates an opportunity to accommodate the flood relief project in a way which is simpler, less costly and easier to maintain. Plans for replacing the bridge and for the separate flood scheme are now proceeding in parallel and in a coordinated way.
Because of the delays the Environment Agency has had to update various environmental surveys required for the planning application, and has also been taking the time to review some other aspects of the scheme design. The scheme retains the same overall design as in the previous planning application, with necessary changes made around the A423 bridge area. Full details of the changes will be explained online, including new videos from the project team and new visuals from 17 May and can be accessed from that date at: consult.environment-agency.gov.uk/thames/oxfordscheme.
The scheme will be submitted for planning approval in late 2021 and the full suite of planning documents will be available for public comment at that time. The May activities are intended to update members of the public about the scheme and be an opportunity to ask questions, prior to the start of the formal planning process.
OFA is a member of the Sponsoring Group for the OFAS project and supports the proposals being put forward by the Environment Agency.
Back in February the Environment Agency announced a new collaboration with the environmental charity Earth Trust which will be giving advice on the environmental legacy of the project. OFA proposed a couple of years back that a local environmental charity be engaged, and we welcome the partnership with Earth Trust which has now been announced. We have been keen advocates of maximising environmental benefits from the OFAS project from the beginning and want to ensure these are maintained and built on through the life of the scheme.
Ian Nutt, Director of Programmes & Partnerships at Earth Trust, told OFA:
The Earth Trust is both delighted and inspired to be supporting the Environment Agency over the next two to three years with the environmental vision for the resulting wetland habitat created by the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme. As an Oxfordshire-based charity, our mission is to be the champions for accessible natural green (and blue) spaces for the benefits of nature, the environment and people. We are bringing our experience of developing wetlands on our own site (near Little Wittenham and Dorchester on Thames) and how people access and interact with them longer-term. We’ve just got started on this multi-year collaboration, and really look forward to engaging more with OFA and local groups who have invested so much time and effort into this major programme.
Initially, our role will be supporting the EA with developing the vision for the end result; thinking through how the new stream and wetland habitats can maximise biodiversity, whilst also being a practical landscape that allows for grazing, engaging with people and delivering a wealth of benefits for the local area.
Once the project has all the necessary approvals and construction is about to start an external environmental partner will be formally appointed for the longer-term. They will be responsible for the habitat management and enhancement in the scheme area, as well as maintaining relationships with local communities.
It is not uncommon for residents of Kennington, North Hinksey and South Hinksey to suffer from sewer flooding problems and these continued over the Christmas period with surcharges occurring on both the 24th and 27th December. Both dates coincided with the heavy rainfall events and result from Littlemore Pumping Station being unable to cope with the high volume of water.
The second surcharge was particularly challenging for South Hinksey residents as the EA flood barrier prevented the sewage from leaving the village. Thankfully the pumps the EA had already provided prevented houses from being flooded, but they couldn’t stop a pollution incident as the sewage discharged into the local water courses.
Several residents reported the incident to Thames Water, but their response time was well short of their two-hour target. We know of one call which was responded to eleven hours after being reported, and another which took a whole three days. We’d be interested in other readers’ experiences.
OFA Steering Group member Adrian Porter has once again raised the poor level of service with the Thames Water customer liaison team.
Residents in Wolvercote, West Oxford, North and South Hinksey and Grandpont witnessed significant localised flooding on Christmas day after a rapid rise in river levels over the preceding days. Between the 17 and 22 December, more than 25mm of rain fell across the upper parts of the Thames catchment resulting in high river levels on the Thames and the three main tributaries feeding the Thames – the Evenlode, Windrush and Cherwell. An additional 20-60mm of rainfall fell between the 22 December and the 24 December on the already saturated Upper Thames catchment causing a rapid rise in river levels on the Thames in Oxford. The large volume of water discharging from the Cherwell to the west of Christchurch Meadows, is thought to have caused flood water further upstream in Oxford to back up, contributing to a faster rise in levels than we typically experience in the city.
After peaking on Christmas day levels fell, but further rainfall on Saturday night nudged levels back up. The rivers seem to have stabilised since and levels are expected to fall in the coming days. The peak level of the recent flooding was significantly higher than those seen during last winter’s flood events. The Environment Agency has been actively monitoring the situation and flood barriers were erected in South Hinksey as a precaution. Flood Warnings were issued for Wolvercote, and for the New Botley – North/South Hinksey – Grandpont areas. There have been no reports of properties in the city flooding.
The speed at which river levels rose on Christmas eve is particularly concerning, as this limited the amount of time available to deploy defenses. This has potential implications for future flood management planning.
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.
We were very sorry to hear that County Councillor Rodney Rose has died at the weekend. Rodney was cabinet member for flooding for a number of year and we got to know him well. He attended several of our evening Annual Public Meetings. He was very much involved in organising a ‘Flood Summit’ which led to the start of the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme (OFAS); he then co-chaired the Scheme’s Sponsoring Group until last year. He was an excellent Chairman, not only did meetings always run to time but they were brightened by his lively sense of humour. Provided that OFAS goes ahead, it will be an important and significant part of the public legacy he leaves behind. Our condolences go to his family.
Oxford FAS ground investigations: a borehole being drilled this afternoon in South Hinksey.
The A-frame percussive drill dug 9 metres down, below the alluvial layer, the gravel layer and 5 metres into the clay.
The capped pipe is a monitoring site where the changes in ground water depth over time can be observed.
Four of us were interviewed by Japan’sNHK for a television documentary on climate change. NHK is Japan’s national public broadcaster, and Japan’s largest broadcasting organization. The interviews and filming covered OFA’s evolution as a community organisation and what we have done, and the problems of flooding and measures taken to reduce its impact as exemplified in the Botley Road area and South Hinksey, while John Mastroddi highlighted the important multi-partner project at Munday’s bridge. The Committee on Climate Change, Thames Estuary 2100, Thames Barriers and others will form part of the programme too – it’s due out in Japan (with subtitles!) in November and internationally in December.