Oxford can – and must – be prepared

The BBC reports further today on the serious Welsh floods

“Communities will want new flood defences after many Welsh rivers burst their banks during Storm Callum, Wales’ environment agency has warned.

Parts of Wales saw the worst flooding for 30 years ….

A 21-year-old man was killed after a landslip and many homes and businesses were flooded as Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and south Powys bore the brunt of the storm on Friday and over the weekend.”

We’ve been proactive in Oxford so we’re much further ahead – the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme is currently being considered for planning approval. Whether the Welsh floods are in part related to climate change would require event attribution analysis to give an estimate of the probability that that is the case. But certainly it’s the sort of event that one would expect with climate change. It’s vital that Oxford’s as ready as it can be.

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Raining hard

It’s raining steadily and hard here today, not enough to flood us but, after the severe flooding in Wales, a further reminder of the threat to Oxford.

Many, many houses and businesses, roads and railway were flooded in seven of the years between 2000 and 2014.

With climate change predicting far worse to come, Oxford needs protection.

This was Oxford in 2007

Severe flooding in Wales – a timely reminder

We’ve had a dry summer, river flows are low and flooding may seem a long way off. But it’s always a threat as this article on the BBC website today, about severe flooding in Wales, reminds one:

Storm Callum: Parts of Wales see ‘worst flooding in 30 years’

Whether this event is due in some part to climate change may be impossible to know for sure, but there is no doubt that extreme weather events are becoming more frequent across the world. Now is the time to prepare Oxford for that future.

The planning application for the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme is being scrutinised; if approved Oxford’s flood risk will be reduced. Without it Oxford will remain largely undefended and future generations will rightly ask why something wasn’t done while the opportunity was there.

See too https://oxfordfloodalliance.org.uk/2015/12/08/flooding-from-storm-desmond/

Salutary reading – predicted effects of climate change

The Environment Agency has today warned people to be prepared for flooding as it launches its Flood Action Campaign. The likely effects of climate change, with more frequent and intense flooding, are emphasised.

Press Release                                                                                                                 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/climate-change-means-more-frequent-flooding-warns-environment-agency

In our local paper http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/national/15998116.Climate_change_to_make_intense_floods_more_frequent__Environment_Agency_warns/

On ITV News                                                                                                                                                 http://www.itv.com/news/2018-02-16/flooding-uk-climate-change/

Seacourt P&R: Planning Review Committee meeting

Oxford City Council’s Planning Review Committee met last night to reconsider the application to extend Seacourt park and ride. This had previously been approved by West Area Planning Committee but a review had been requested by concerned councillors.

The review committee confirmed the previous decision.

There is a report in the Oxford Mail.

We believe this decision is a huge mistake and we are disturbed by aspects of the decision-making process.

There is no lack of parking spaces here, nor overall. Should it ever be needed, better usage of existing parking could easily be achieved by live signage on the ring road. We have collected online data and visited the site over the very busy pre and post Christmas periods – the existing car park has never once been full. Opening of the new Westgate has not caused problems and many people clearly choose to drive into the city rather then use park and ride.

The cost is huge, £4.1 million is already budgeted. And there are many other urgent calls on the public purse. People are homeless and sleeping on the streets just a mile away.

The site floods from groundwater – an aspect that has received scant attention, despite our highlighting it repeatedly. Because of groundwater flooding there will be a net loss of floodplain if this development goes ahead. The site will also flood when the rivers flood. This will make it expensive to pump out, maintain and repair.

The decision is undoubtedly contrary to national planning guidance (NPPF) which is there to protect the floodplain and Green Belt. A previous extremely similar application on the site was the subject of a Planning Enquiry in 1998 and refused by the Secretary of State in 1999. Since 2007 the guidance has been strengthened following the Pitt Report on the Oxford and nation-wide flooding in 2007.

It is possible that the present application will be Called-in by the present Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid:  we have requested, jointly with Layla Moran MP, that this should happen. If the application is Called-in a Public Enquiry will follow. The reason for our request is that a decision to develop a car park in the floodplain sets a serious national precedent. Building in the floodplain is deplorable, except in the most exceptional cases – which this most certainly is not.

If the extension does eventually go ahead it is not impossible that the Council will in time come to regret it – as construction costs rise, maintenance is expensive due to recurrent flooding (exacerbated by climate change) and occupancy is low. But that will be no comfort  – much better it should never happen in the first place.

 

Flood Alerts and opposition to OFAS – on the same day …

Today there are Environment Agency Flood Alerts for our area. As we write, water from ditches to the west is starting to accumulate in a corner of King George’s Field, behind Duke and Earl Streets, as it does at the start of every flood. More rain is forecast tonight.

And on the very same day we read of opposition to the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme in the Oxford Mail. The Scheme is designed to save many, many hundreds of homes and businesses from recurrent flooding, at enormous stress, disruption, and financial cost – to individuals, families, businesses, and the whole Oxford community. Climate change is widely expected to make things far worse in the future. We’ve been at this for ten years now and in our opinion (and that of many others) there is no viable alternative, “Green” or otherwise. If we don’t get the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme it’ll simply be a disaster for Oxford.

The Paris Agreement, December 2015

COP21Nearly 200 countries, developing and developed, and including oil and gas producers, reached agreement at the COP21 conference in Paris to address climate change. This looks like the beginning of the end for fossil fuels.

The deal requires that countries should stem greenhouse gas emissions, with the goal of peaking emissions as soon as possible and continuing the reductions as the century progresses. The aim is to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2°C by 2100, ideally keeping the rise below 1.5°C.

The deal will encourage trillions of dollars to be spent adapting to the effects of climate change – including of course flooding – and developing renewable energy. Developed countries are to send at least $100 billion each year to developing countries beginning in 2020.

The agreement gives countries leeway in determining how to cut their emissions but they must report how they are doing. Progress will be reviewed every five years.

Some elements, like reporting requirements, are legally binding, others, such as the setting of emissions targets for individual countries, are non-binding.

This is potentially a game-changing agreement and has been widely welcomed. Hopefully the catastrophic possibility of irreversible and escalating change can be averted. Nevertheless, climate change is here with us and we can expect to see its effects on weather patterns continuing for the foreseeable future, with increased flooding a prominent result.

Let us hope that the implementation of the Paris agreement is as good as promised.

Storm Desmond, flooding and climate change

corporation road carlisleCorporation Road, Carlisle (Photo: North News)

There has been widespread and severe flooding in Lancashire and Cumbria due to unprecedentedly heavy rainfall in a short period from Storm Desmond. One feels for the people affected, many not for the first time.

‘The 405mm of rain that fell in Thirlmere in the 38 hours to 8am on Sunday marked a record amount of rain ever to fall in a 48-hour period while the 341.4mm recorded at Honister Pass on Saturday broke the highest rainfall record for any 24-hour period.’

‘Dame Julia Slingo, the Met Office’s chief scientist, said the “extraordinary” conditions were likely the result of climate change. Her comments were echoed by Liz Truss, the Environment Secretary, who told MPs: “Climate change is factored into all the modelling work the Environment Agency does but clearly in the light of this extreme weather we are going to have a look at that modelling and make sure it’s fit for purpose.” ‘http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/weather/12038356/Floods-caught-ministers-by-surprise.html

‘Prof Hall [Professor Jim Hall, director of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford] said there was always a trade off between costs and risks. Nevertheless, he added that the latest floods “should be a trigger for a revaluation of protection standards”.’ http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/57b91e9c-9cf1-11e5-8ce1-f6219b685d74.html#axzz3tiucxtde

There is more on the relation between flooding and climate change here http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/uk/heavy-rain-and-flooding-fit-with-climate-change-predictions-34268682.html

Extreme weather events associated with climate change are already more common: we need to make sure the assumptions used in the modelling of the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme (Oxford FAS) sufficiently take into account the effects of climate change.

Climate change – Paris 2015

COP21There is lots of attention on climate change just now with the United Nations conference COP21* coming up next week. Whether governments will agree enough, and then do enough, to hold any increase in global warming to 2˚C remains to be seen. Limiting the average global surface temperature increase to 2°C over the pre-industrial average has generally been regarded as an adequate means of avoiding dangerous climate change – though there is some doubt about whether this is sufficiently stringent.

Whatever happens, we can expect an increasing frequency of extreme weather and we need to be investing in ways of mitigating the impact. As far as Oxford and the threat of flooding is concerned that, in our view, means the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme (Oxford FAS). See too a previous post on Oxford FAS and climate change .

* COP21 is the 21st Conference of the Parties, i.e. the annual meeting of all countries which want to take action for the climate. It will be held in France, from 30 November to 11 December http://www.cop21.gouv.fr/en/.

 

 

Oxford’s floods and climate change: our article in Oxford Civic Society’s newsletter

The Flood Ostriches and climate change

We’ve an article in July 2015 edition of ‘Visions’, the newsletter of the Oxford Civic Society.

It sets out our views on the threat posed to Oxford by flooding, with emphasis on the possible effects of climate change, and the relative merits of the possible options for combating that threat.