Work begins soon on Seacourt P&R extension, which we opposed fiercely.
Work begins soon on Seacourt P&R extension, which we opposed fiercely.
Members of OFA steering group, along with Councillor Colin Cook, and Stephanie Ouzman (a member of MP Layla Moran’s staff), met with Council officers and their consultants WYG on 27 April 2018 to try to obtain answers to a series of questions about the proposed Seacourt P&R extension. Subsequent to the meeting there was a further email exchange and answers were provided to a number of outstanding points by the Council. We appreciate having had this opportunity for dialogue about the issues, and now feel we understand what is being proposed.
It’s clear from the response from the Council that the planning documents did not provide a clear reference to the use of an impermeable membrane at the site. It wasn’t spelled out in the application, and the documents give no details of the tanking and how this would work. This has now been explained to us.
We believe we should have been able to get answers, as of right, on points of issue like this through the planning consultation. The fact that we couldn’t was a failure of the process, and below the standards we have observed in other applications locally. The County (LLFA), Environment Agency and planning officer didn’t, in our view, fully understand what WYG were proposing – this is clear from correspondence with them during and subsequent to the planning process. Councillors, therefore, approved a proposal which had information gaps in it on flood risk, and which they couldn’t have fully understood. In our view this happened because the planning outcome had already been pre-determined, and our queries were ignored because the process was designed to secure a particular outcome.
Now that we know what’s actually proposed, we don’t believe (as far as we can judge) that the development poses an immediate and direct flood risk to local properties, which is obviously a welcome outcome. But all development in Flood Zone 3B by its very nature creates a risk to the consistent and predictable functioning of floodplains. Hence planning policy, which incorporates learning outcomes from decades of previous developments in areas subject to flooding, prohibits such developments because the medium and long-term consequences can be unexpected and far-reaching.
We believe the development is inconsistent with planning guidelines – building in the floodplain and Green Belt – but recognise the planning officer advised otherwise, and that Councillors agreed with his interpretation. We regret that the Secretary of State did not choose to examine this issue, and believe the Council’s decision sets an unfortunate planning precedent. We also remain unconvinced of the need case.
The car park extension will be an additional source of pollution during a flood, and there is no way to stop this. This is undesirable, and a negative environmental impact. The Seacourt P&R extension is just to the north of OFAS which has an ‘environmental vision’ aiming to improve freshwater habitat – a vision the Council signed up to.
If the development goes ahead, we’ll be watching with interest to see how often if floods and how the local authority deals with this. At times of flooding the car park will be a potential source of risk to users and members of the public. We will also continue to be vigilant about further planning applications brought forward by the Council, as the process has left us feeling we can’t rely on the local planning authority, or members of Council planning committees, to safeguard the public interest. We hope public concerns will be better addressed should any similar situation arise in future.
OFA attended a briefing yesterday (22 May 2018) on the Environmental Statement which forms part of the OFAS planning application. This was organised by the Environment Agency (EA) specifically for local environmental groups. Penny Burt, Phil Marsh and Graham Scholey for the EA covered different aspects of the scheme, and provided updates on the various environmental assessments being conducted.
The scheme will result in the creation of a continuous area of marshy meadow either side of the new channel with various scrapes and ponds to enhance the habitat value. Overall biodiversity should be improved and strengthened.
But there are downsides. Rich grassland meadow in some areas will be lost, and while there are plans to create more of this habitat elsewhere in the scheme this is not without risk. Trees will be lost in some areas, though compensated for elsewhere. Some views will change significantly, e.g. along Willow Walk, and at Kendal Copse just north of Kennington.
Several useful comments were made by participants in the meeting about ways to enhance environmental benefits from the scheme which the EA will think about.
Ongoing effective management of the project will be critical and the Environment Agency is now exploring detailed proposals around this with various local wildlife organisations. OFA welcomes the idea of collaboration between the EA and local bodies, but is arguing that whatever arrangements are set up there needs to be a mechanism of accountability to the public, so that local interested parties can understand what is being undertaken, and what achieved – both for flood relief and for wildlife.
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.
We held our 10th Annual Public Meeting two days ago. Attendance was less than last year but then we have not had a flood for longer! However we still had a respectable attendance.
Jon Mansbridge and Penny Burt from the Environment Agency kindly updated us on the (good) progress of the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme, with the planning application due to go live in the first half of May. Jon summarised the scheme so far and what we can expect next. Penny dealt with the environmental aspects – the aim being to preserve as much of what is there already as possible and to enhance in other ways. The area is rich in habitat and wildlife so there is an excellent base to build from.
City Councillor Colin Cook was made our Flood Star for 2018, and was presented by Liz Sawyer with the now traditional bottle of Chateau OFA.
Simon Collings spoke about the Seacourt P&R extension application, now approved, and which we have spent so very many hours opposing over the past year and more. In particular, Simon set out our concerns over groundwater flooding both on and off site, which have not, in our view, been at all adequately addressed in the planning process. A meeting with City Council officers and consultants has since (today, 27 April) taken place to discuss our concerns in detail.
Nick Hills spoke about maintaining community preparedness for flooding.
The evening finished with a talk from Graham Brogden, of insurers Aviva, on how insurers are now paying much more attention to ensuring that post-flooding repairs are done in a way that will leave the property more resilient than before, rather than just replacing like for like. We’ve been advocating this for years so it’s good to see the insurance industry working in this common-sense way.
Many thanks to our speakers, and to those who came for their support.
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
For anyone not on our mailing list, our Annual Public Meeting is this Wednesday, 25 April at West Oxford Democrats Club, 1 North Street, Osney Island, Oxford OX2 0AY.
Doors open at 7 pm, meeting starts at 7.30 pm.
City Councillor Colin Cook will be made Oxford Flood Alliance’s ‘Flood Star’ for 2018, in recognition of his support throughout the last 10 years – not least in this past year for his sterling and principled support of our opposition to the Seacourt P&R extension application (below).
There will be two speakers from the Environment Agency on the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme – Jon Mansbridge on the progress so far and Penny Burt on environmental aspects.
We will discuss the controversial Seacourt P&R extension application, now approved, which has taken so much of our time and effort over the past year and more.
Graham Brogden from insurers Aviva will talk about property level resilience.
Everyone is very welcome to attend.
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.
The site of the planned extension to Seacourt park and ride has been partially flooded for several days, today being the worst so far.
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.