There is to be a talk, open to all, on ‘The Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme: Maximising the benefits for people and freshwater wildlife’ with Jeremy Biggs of Freshwater Habitats Trust and Penny Burt from the Environment Agency on Monday 26 November 2018 at 6.30 pm in South Hinksey Village Hall.
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.
Why do we need a flood scheme at all?
We have had five major floods since 2000 and climate change will make things worse (indeed there is evidence from Oxford University that it already has). Oxford residents, and the economic well-being of the City, will suffer badly if something is not done. While the scheme will cause disruption during its construction it is imperative that Oxford is protected.
But what about downstream, won’t they be worse off?
All the detailed computer modelling for the Scheme (and we have recently heard on the grapevine that a totally independent consultancy has confirmed this ) says that flooding will not be made worse downstream. We know that comparisons are made with the Jubilee River – this scheme is nothing like that. Indeed OFAS is actually increasing the capacity of the floodplain, which together with bunding and rerouting of flow will reduce flood risk to many hundreds of properties.
Is it a concrete channel?
No, it isn’t. What it is is a much more naturalistic 2-stage channel, used around the world for flood relief.
How will the environment be affected?
While there will, regrettably, be some environmental losses, we are pressing hard – collaborating with the Environment Agency, and with support from others, particularly the Freshwater Habitats Trust – for environmental enhancements as part of the scheme. While one cannot compare one environmental loss directly with another environmental gain we believe the positives will be considerable.
It’s so important that there is a plan now for the very long-term maintenance of the Scheme. In our experience over the last 10 years “if maintenance can be neglected it probably will be”. There are some honourable exceptions and we certainly have we have no criticism whatever of the local EA maintenance team, who achieve a huge amount with very limited resources. Others do nothing or very little unless goaded and embarrassed into action. This Scheme, being “natural” will deteriorate quickly if not proactively maintained. The initial intent was to plan maintenance for 10 years: that is simply not good enough for such an expensive and important project. We have proposed that maintenance be planned for in perpetuity by setting up a responsible, funded, local body, maybe as a charitable trust (or similar).
A Green group
thinks that Oxford could and should be protected by very different means – while they are short on specifics, their main idea seems to be that planting enough trees upstream in the Cotswolds would solve Oxford’s problems. It wouldn’t. Expert opinion at our 2015 Symposium of Natural Flood Management (NFM) made that very clear. Even afforesting the whole of the Cotswolds (not that that would ever happen) would not do the job. Oxford is simply too far downstream for that. That’s not to say that NFM can’t work in smaller catchments, nor that it might not make a contribution.
Flooding land upstream?
The Environment Agency’s Oxford Flood Risk Management Strategy (OFRMS) suggests this may be needed one day if climate change makes things sufficiently bad. Involving as it would temporary flooding large areas of farmland and other land it is never likely to be easy to implement.
We remain strongly opposed to the planning application by Oxford City Council to extend its Seacourt Park and Ride into Oxford’s vital flood plain. There has been a nibble, nibble attrition of the flood plain over many years leading to worse flooding. That the City Council should itself be seeking to extend a car park into the flood plain that protects our city is quite extraordinary.
Here are our latest comments:
On Thursday evening 16 July, 30 or so parishioners met in South Hinksey Village Hall with Peter Collins and Magnus Williams from the Environment Agency (EA). We were pleased that local farmer Nick Frearson and a land agent on behalf of landowner Oxford City Council, were present too: they are important stakeholders in the project.
Engineer Magnus Williams presented his initial design ideas for groundwork to support deployment of temporary barriers for the village when flooding threatens. Magnus is talking to individual householders to ensure that everyone is happy with the specifics of the proposals.
We’re grateful to the Vale of White Horse District Council for providing £60k for the works and to the EA for providing the engineering design input, obtaining of permissions and so on.
We hope that things can move ahead as fast as possible as winter approaches and the risk of our flooding increases yet again.
Peter Collins, EA’s Asset Management Performance Team Leader for the Oxford area updated us on the aims and progress of the scheme.
Many thanks to Magnus and Peter for giving up their evening to meet us, much appreciated.
Simon Collings represented OFA at the second meeting of Oxford City Council Scrutiny Panel on sewer flooding. Thames Water (TW) gave an update on where they are with a) Grandpont and b) the Oxford Catchment Study:
At Grandpont they have identified the most likely causes of sewer flooding and TW will now work with the City Council and residents to improve things. Local resident Brian Durham of OFA and SOFAG has been closely involved in this work.
On the Catchment Study they are engaged in two parallel processes:
- a physical inspection of assets across the city – with any issues they identify being fixed as they go along (where the business case is obvious). This includes an inspection of both main trunk sewers.
- customer surveys to help them understand where problems arise during a flood and how these manifest themselves.
So far they haven’t encountered anything which would suggest they need major capital investments, though they do plan to upgrade the pumps at Littlemore.
TW are talking to the Environment Agency (EA) team working on the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme, and the two modelling teams are going to share data and work together. By good luck the option development phases of both projects are working to similar timetables. EA will help TW understand how the river flooding affects the sewers, and TW will contribute to that work.
There will be one more meeting of the Scrutiny Panel in November/December but from then on formal reports will be given through the Oxford Area Flood Partnership, to avoid duplication of meetings.