Our 10th Annual Public Meeting

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.

Advertisements

Our Annual Public meeting is this Wednesday, 25 April

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.

 

 

Thoughts on OFAS

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.

Maintenance.

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.

 

 

Maintenance and wildlife

We met with the Environment Agency (EA) and Jeremy Biggs of the Freshwater Habitats Trust (FHT) today.

We talked about articulating an environmental vision for the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme (the Scheme) which brings together the various initiatives which are planned and how these will be managed and maintained. This included possible bodies/corporate structures that might be involved in overseeing maintenance in the long-term, to deliver both flood risk reduction and benefits for wildlife. We are working towards a preferred option for the future management arrangements.

FHT is hoping to facilitate community involvement in the conservation of freshwater habitats within the Scheme area – for example by employing someone to liaise with local people, including schools, so they can be involved in wildlife science in the floodplain. Part of the funding has been secured by a generous offer of funding from Thames Water, and FHT and EA will now approach other bodies together.

OFA is about to send letters asking local businesses to contribute funding to help close the small funding gap that remains for the Scheme.

South Hinksey ‘barrier-ready’ works all but complete

In South Hinksey, the works designed to make deploying temporary defences, should flooding threaten, quicker and easier, are almost complete.

Three flap valves have just been installed on pipes which connect into field ditches. These non-return valves will allow water out from within any temporary barrier but not allow it back in from the flooded area outside.

Elsewhere wide garden gates have been installed, reinforced fences built, and removable fence panels fitted.

A very few minor snagging items remain, but the scheme is otherwise complete and fully ready for temporary barriers. Many thanks to the Vale of White Horse District Council for funding and to the Environment Agency for organising the work – not least to engineer Magnus Williams who has managed the scheme from its inception to its completion. Thanks too to farmer Nick Frearson, and to the horse owners for their cooperation during the works.

Maintenance of Weirs Mill Stream

Environment Agency contractors have been working on the Weirs Mill Stream and nearby this month. We helped identify the need for this maintenance (see 2015 APM report para 3). The work will  improve conveyance of water through this important part of the Oxford river network. It is above and beyond the usual annual maintenance programme and is being paid for using additional funds which the Environment Agency received from The Treasury following last winter’s flooding.