Large areas of Oxford have been flooded six or seven times since 2000, most recently during the winter of 2013/14. Flooding causes damage and distress to homeowners and businesses, long delays on road and rail. Most people are affected in one way or another. The economy suffers, as does Oxford’s reputation as a place to do business.
Oxford sits at the confluence of seven rivers whose combined catchment area is about 2,500 km². Just south of the city, the west Oxford floodplain narrows markedly, both geologically and because of railway, roads and buildings. Water cannot get away as fast as it arrives, so builds up, flooding Oxford.
The only long-term solution on the table is the multi-partner Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme (FAS) (aka the Western Conveyance) designed to reduce flooding to once in every 75 years (assuming the climate does not alter – see below). In our view, other ideas, such as making changes upstream to hold water back, would not be enough on their own to solve Oxford’s problems. There may be a role for upstream measures as well in future if, as seems likely, climate change makes things worse. We’ll write more about this later.
IMPORTANT NOTE: What follows is our best understanding but is subject to change as time goes by. At the moment (December 2014) there is no formed and stated plan.
Some likely elements of the Oxford FAS :
- a new and/or expanded existing, watercourse, to the west of Oxford, with more capacity than the existing Hinksey Stream. Beginning above the Botley Road, near the Seacourt Park & Ride, and ending below the lock at Sandford-on-Thames.
- perhaps a new bridge under the Botley Road.
- a bigger way under the railway between South Hinksey and Kennington.
- a new cut allowing flood water to by-pass the lock at Sandford, so making use of the available gradient.
- will not be ‘another Thames’ – not least because in times of low water the Thames will still need most of what’s available to remain navigable. The OFAS watercourse in the floodplain meadows will probably be a so-called 2-stage channel, i.e. a small watercourse with water in all year, but with further wide, shallowly sloping, sides which can fill with water during floods. Such channels retain a natural appearance, can be grazed, and are likely to enhance wildlife habitat rather than diminish it. Only very short sections may be heavily engineered – for example through the old Redbridge landfill site (should that be on the route decided on) to avoid contamination issues.
- recreational uses – walking, cycling and fishing – with new public open space and foot/cycle paths.
- the intention is that it will be 3-4 years in the planning and completed within 8 years. We wonder if this may prove over-optimistic, but only for the general reason that big projects usually seem to take longer than they are meant to. So far (Nov 2014) the project is on schedule.
- great care will be taken that the scheme could not make things worse for people living downstream. Indeed, this is mandatory for the scheme to be given the go-ahead by the government.
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