Annual Public Meeting 2015

Our Annual Public Meeting on 19 November was well attended – we were delighted to welcome many members of the public, local councillors, representatives of all the local flood agencies, an Oxford University researcher and Andrew Smith, MP for Oxford East. Nicola Blackwood, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, and Rodney Rose, Deputy Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, sent their apologies.

Adrian Porter began the evening by setting out our three key current objectives:

  • support for the proposed multi-partner Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme (Oxford FAS)
  • maintenance of existing waterways
  • that as and when the Oxford FAS happens, maintenance should be properly provided for from the start.

He went on to give an overview of the past year including our recent boat trip, with the Environment Agency, which identified necessary maintenance on Weirs Mill Stream: this work is being planned and funding being sought. John Mastroddi provided detail on the clearance under Munday’s bridge, which completes the project begun in 2013. Impending planning applications at Seacourt P&R and Oxford Four Pillars Hotel, both firmly in the floodplain, are on our radar.

Nick Hills, our Treasurer, told us that we had £346 in the bank, enough for several years at the present rate of spending! Nevertheless, being the good treasurer he is, he asked people to leave any donations as they left: this raised a very generous £110. Nick set out some of the things we’d been pleased to see in the year: among those not referred to in more detail later on were the permanent pipe under the Botley Road to allow pumping across the road without disruption to traffic (County and City Councils), Waitrose’s use of SUDS at their new shop and the successful public events for OFAS during the summer.

He explained how we support OFAS in principle and are contributing to the process along with the other partners – but always reserving the right to be a ‘critical friend’.

The first of our guest speakers, Joanna Grew from Network Rail, gave an account of their proposed Hinksey Flood Alleviation Scheme: this includes the clearing of culverts at Coldharbour (for which we have been pushing for some time), track raising and installation of new culverts. More detail can be seen in Joanna’s presentation downloadable here. You can download a leaflet about the scheme here.

James Playfair explained the progress of Thames Water’s ongoing sewer survey across Oxford, the Oxford Catchment Study. This is about to enter its second year: already some issues have been resolved including significant improvements to the pumps at Littlemore Pumping Station. The presentation can be downloaded here.

Last but not least Emma Formoy from the Environment Agency gave the meeting an up-to-date account of the Oxford FAS; Emma mentioned the possible wider benefits of the scheme, including for wildlife, and the crucial importance of rigorous modelling. More detail in the presentation downloadable here: this includes dates of the next round of Public Events in January 2016 when a consultation on the route options for the scheme will begin. These can be also seen in the Oxford FAS Newsletter – November 2015, perhaps more easily. In parallel with these events, people will be able to view these proposed options and partake in the consultation online.

Apart from these individual achievements and plans, what is remarkable, and heartening, is the considerable cooperation, for example sharing of modelling data, between these three agencies – i.e. they talk to each other! As one of us commented later, we have come a very long way since 2007. We are grateful to our guests for coming to talk and for all the work their organisations are doing. The sum (assuming they all reach fruition) will give Oxford a better, and more secure and sustainable, future.

Nick Hills presented Steve Smith, Engineer with Oxford City Council, with our Flood Star award for this year. This is in recognition and thanks for Steve’s sterling work on many flood schemes and smaller works over the years, as well as co-ordinating the Oxford Area Flood Partnership.

Peter Rawcliffe spoke about OFA’s suggestion for maintaining Oxford FAS: as this is to be largely a ‘natural’ channel it will be subject to inevitable deterioration – so providing both a problem and an opportunity. OFA proposes that a trust be established, in perpetuity, to manage for both flood alleviation and wildlife. Trustees could be drawn from the several stakeholders – landowners, local authorities, Environment Agency, academics and wildlife bodies – to name just a few. We believe this is a practical way to make the most of what the scheme offers Oxford and its residents and visitors. This 7km channel will be ever more essential to Oxford if climate change develops as predicted. Each km may cost £18 million to build. We need to treasure it: in our view a local trust with local accountability, and autonomy to manage as it sees fit, fits the bill.

Simon Collings discussed modelling: as mentioned above this is absolutely vital to developing the case for OFAS – both to be as sure as humanly possible that it will work and equally importantly that no one downstream will be disadvantaged. We recently attended a meeting at the School of Geography, Oxford University: Simon explained some of the potential pitfalls of modelling that we had learned of there, and suggested that community review of the OFAS modelling (assisted by expert modellers) be included in the scrutiny process. This in addition to review by academic modeller(s) which is already under discussion for the scheme and which we strongly support.

We thank those who attended for their support and we thank our visiting speakers for helping to make the meeting a success. Our thanks too to the West Oxford Democrats Club for generously allowing us to use their hall once again.

Oxford’s MPs

Congratulations to Nicola Blackwood (Oxford West and Abingdon) and Andrew Smith (Oxford East) who have both retained their parliamentary seats in yesterday’s general election.

Flooding presents a real threat to the welfare of the people and city of Oxford. Climate change is likely to increase that risk in future. Both our MPs have already expressed their support for the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme. We look forward to continuing to work with them and others on this so-important multi-partner project.

The scheme could become a reality within this next parliament: that would be fantastic for the city we are so lucky to live in, helping to ensure it continues to thrive.

Flood Repair and Renew grant – extended eligibility and deadlines

Andrew Smith MP has kindly sent us this recent letter about the Flood Repair and Renew Grant scheme.
The key points are

1. the eligibility period has been extended back to April 2013;

2. deadlines for applications have been extended.

Flood Repair and Renew Grant_Feb 2015 letter

Our MPs’ views

May 2014

Oxford MPs Nicola Blackwood (Oxford West & Abingdon) and Andrew Smith (Oxford East) have been very active on flooding, both in supporting people and in lobbying for action to reduce it. Flooding does not recognise political boundaries and our MPs have worked together when appropriate, to good effect. They have both supported our own efforts, for which we thank them. Here they give us their current views:

Joint Statement from Nicola Blackwood MP (Oxford West & Abingdon) and Andrew Smith MP (Oxford East)

The human and economic cost of the flooding our local communities must endure every year is totally unacceptable. Our city and surrounding villages urgently need long-term, sustainable flood defences to protect homes and keep Oxfordshire open for business, rain or no rain. The Western Relief Channel will protect families and businesses from flooding and we hope that government, local authorities and business alike will work together to make it happen. At the same time, we must ensure that nearby towns at significant flood risk, like Abingdon, also get the long-term, strategic defences they need, and we will keep the pressure up to ensure that all residents in our constituencies can know that everything possible is being done to mitigate flood risk in the area.

Nicola Blackwood MP for Oxford West & Abingdon writes:

Overflowing Sewers

We need urgent action on our drainage infrastructure, a point which I have raised repeatedly with both Thames Water and the Environment Secretary. Hard-working local groups such as Oxford Flood Alliance and the Ock Valley Flood Group have done a great deal to highlight these problems. I held a half-day meeting with Thames Water in February to discuss the problems that have arisen in each part of my constituency and how this appalling state of affairs can be more effectively prevented in the future.

On flood prevention more widely

I am pleased that local flood defence measures implemented since 2007 have been successful this year in protecting people and property. But other properties have not escaped and countless residents have been affected in other ways such as disruption of road and rail transport, and loss of business. I continue to put pressure on local and central Government, response agencies and utility companies to improve and strengthen local defences further.

Watercourse maintenance

I have raised with the Secretary of State and the Environment Agency the issue of establishing more regular maintenance of key watercourses around Oxford, including the Hinksey and Osney Stream areas. Riparian owners must be encouraged to carry out maintenance along their river banks to keep the river working well. The Environment Agency can play a key role in advising and encouraging landowners to do this.

Dredging

I have sent a series of written Parliamentary Questions to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, asking that his Department look again at the importance of dredging.

Flooding is a very serious problem for Oxfordshire and what we need now are long-term solutions. I have been raising all of these issues locally and in Parliament and I will continue to do so. I will also remain in close contact with local people, flood action groups, Thames Water and the Environment Agency, vigorously representing the concerns of my constituents.

Andrew Smith MP for Oxford East writes:

Thanks. Throughout the flooding crises, I have kept in touch with residents and taken up concerns with the relevant agencies as well as raising questions in Parliament. I have greatly valued the advice and dedicated work of the South Oxford Flood Action Group and the Oxford Flood Alliance.

Sewerage problems

The worst impact of both episodes of flooding this year has been on residents unable to use toilets because of flood water – surface flooding and groundwater – inundating the sewerage system.  I visited residents in both of the areas affected in my constituency:  the Weirs Lane area and Western Road area.  I took this up with Thames Water at the time and subsequently, and have held a residents meeting. Thames Water have undertaken to clear up any sewerage residue in gardens, and to complete a general clean up of silt from affected sewers, coordinated with the councils responsible for a prior clean-up of surface water drains. The latter has to be done first, as matter from the council clean up often ends up in the sewers!  Thames Water have confirmed to me that they will complete a catchment area study of sewers in Oxford. I will continue to press for improvements.

The severity of problems in the Weirs Lane area was such that the City Council put Portacabin toilets and washing facilities in affected streets, and moved some vulnerable residents into alternative accommodation.

Other flood prevention measures

Each time there are floods lessons are learnt.  Properties have been saved from flooding thanks to the barrier and pumping operation in Vicarage Road and Lake Street, applying lessons of the 2007 floods.  It was noticeable the impact this year which the fire service pumping operation had in clearing water from Abingdon Road.  It raises the question of whether a bund alongside the allotments coupled with more pumping might reduce the flooding risk in the Weirs Lane area, and the City Council have assured me this will be investigated with the Environment Agency.

Insurance

I have raised with government and the insurance industry the availability and affordability of household insurance for properties affected by flooding risk.  I have also helped individual constituents having difficulty with getting cover. I support the need of businesses also to have access to affordable insurance.

Flood insurance

29 June 2013

For months there have been cries from the back seat of ‘Are we there yet?’ and the reply ‘Very, very nearly’ from the government and the insurance industry. At long last an agreement has been reached, see Flood Re Briefing Note from the Association of British Insurers (pdf download). Both Oxford MPs, Andrew Smith and Nicola Blackwood, have been active in the House of Commons and behind the scenes in pushing for this. So has Brian Durham, member of the OFA Steering Group and Co-chair of the South Oxford Flood Action Group, SOFAG. Our thanks to them all.

 

Munday’s bridge under the railway at Kennington

9 March 2013

We have been urging that this serious bottleneck near Redbridge be sorted out since 2007. Improvements were made in 2009, but more was needed.

Now there is a multi-partner project between Thames Water, Network Rail, Oxford City Council, Vale of White Horse District Council and Oxfordshire County Council to make further improvements. Delays due to legal issues have now been resolved, thanks to help from Oxford’s two MPs, Nicola Blackwood and Andrew Smith. We hope work will now start in early April, but as things are now almost a year late we will only be sure when it actually begins. Nevertheless, action is in sight, and will help reduce the flood risk for many people.

MPs visit flooded areas

30 November 2012

Our MPs, Andrew Smith and Nicola Blackwood, have visited flooded areas to see the problems and how defences were working.

Oxford East MP Andrew Smith said: ‘The Environment Agency, City Council and Emergency Services have done a good job.  I saw for myself the effectiveness of the barrier by Hinksey Lake and the pumping operation in Vicarage Road, where we had 3 feet of water in 2007. The measures pressed for by the Oxford Flood Alliance and put in place have made a big difference; but it is all still on a knife-edge, and we must all keep up the pressure for more works to reduce the risks still further’.

Nicola Blackwood, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, visited areas on the Botley Road and in South Hinksey before moving on  to Abingdon. She saw flood defences working well at Bullstake Close, Botley Road. In sharp contrast, in South Hinksey there was flooding of seven houses, with water which seems very likely to have been contaminated by overflowing sewers. Ms Blackwood is taking up this and other issues on behalf of residents.
Sewers and/or surface water systems appear to have been overloaded too in the Grandpont area, and parts at least of the Botley Road area. This is of great concern and demands urgent investigation and remedy.

OFA Annual Public Meeting, 2012

9 November 2012

We held our fifth Annual Public Meeting last night. Each year we wonder if attendance will drop off as we get further from the last flood. That’s 5 years ago, but again we had an excellent turnout. We work by public consent, so it’s important to us that we have strong public support – we’re ready to go for another year. We were delighted to welcome both our local MPs, Nicola Blackwood and Andrew Smith, and Rodney Rose, Deputy Leader of the County Council, who has responsibility for flooding. The County is now the Lead Local Flood Authority and Rodney Rose represents the County on the important DEFRA Thames Regional Flood and Coastal Committee.
Thank you to everybody who came.