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.

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Flood Re

We welcome the recent launch of the Flood Re insurance scheme, which should ensure every homeowner can get affordable flood insurance for their property, but only if it leads to wholesale changes to the way the insurance industry responds to flood events.

Insurers are being asked to pay into a central fund that will be used to cover the cost of claims made by homeowners affected by flooding. This should mean an end to the sky-high insurance premiums and policy excesses that many of us have had to endure over the years, and will allow people to insure their homes against flooding when previously it was unaffordable. The flip side is that it is likely insurers will pass the cost of the creating the fund onto all their policy holders which will result in an average increase in annual premiums of about £10.50 per household. It is also only available to owner-occupied properties, not those in rental accommodation.

To find out more and to see whether your insurance company have signed up to the scheme please visit http://www.floodre.co.uk.

Although a positve first step, we at OFA would like to see insurers work to reduce the total amount paid out due to flooding by:

  1. Contributing to local and national schemes that reduce the impact of flooding
  2. Advising and incentivising homeowners to protect their properties appropriately
  3. Working with local agencies to ensure adequate response is provided during and immediately after a flood event.

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.

 

OFA Annual Public Meeting, 2011

Our fourth Annual Public Meeting was held on 16 November 2011

We were delighted to welcome, as last year, Andrew Smith MP, County and City Councillor Susanna Pressel and City Councillor Colin Cook. A representative attended on behalf of Nicola Blackwood MP. Apologies were received from County Councillor Rodney Rose and City Councillor Oscar Van Nooijen. Last, but by no means least, about 75 members of the public came, an excellent attendance more than four years after the last flood.

The meeting began with the award of the sole OFA Flood Star of 2011 to Paul Kirkley. Paul works as an engineer for Oxford City. His professional skills, commitment, and cooperative way of working have been instrumental in turning ideas into practical flood relief projects which will help many residents escape the miseries of flooding.

2011 APM Paul Kirkley, Flood Star
Nick Hills presents Paul Kirkley (left) with the OFA Flood Star award

A review of the year included:
Nick Hills on the several measures now in place to protect Earl and Duke Streets, including the completion this year of the road hump at the north end of Earl Street (to be supplemented by a barrier on top during a flood) and a new route for flood water down Lamarsh Road, through Kingerlee’s land to the open meadows to the south. Nick also described the new flood culverts under Willow Walk installed this summer by the Environment Agency and originally suggested by OFA.

Andy Webber told us about the survey which he undertook of Castle Mill Stream. Following this survey the Environment Agency has cleared trees and debris from the channel at the northern end. We now await clearance under badly silted-up railway bridges, removal of sunken boats and a review of the operation of various weirs and sluices.

Paul Kirkley spoke about a possible scheme to reduce risk for residents on the east side of Duke Street, which in the process would further reduce risk for the whole Duke and Earl Street area.

Brian Durham gave an account of the problems of getting flood insurance and how a ‘DIY’ community flood risk assessment might help.

John Mastroddi told the meeting about developments at Munday’s bridge in Kennington, crucial to the drainage of the whole western flood plain. We have been campaigning about this for over four years. It now seems very likely that major improvements will be made here by Thames Water in the spring of 2012.

Richard Thurston spoke about Osney Island. Thames Water has added telemetry to the West Street Pumping station – so if their surface water pump fails, their control centre will receive immediate notification. The City Council’s scheme for property level flood protection in Bridge Street, Doyley Road and South Street (for which the funding is in place) is welcome news and should reassure many Islanders; finally, Thames Water has provided costs for the extension to the surface water drainage scheme (‘sump and pipe’) to relieve South Street and Bridge Street, but there is no funding as yet.

David Macdonald, local resident and senior hydrogeologist with the British Geological Survey, has been studying groundwater in our area for some years. He told us of a project he is leading which, if it is funded, will see Oxford have the UK’s first groundwater warning scheme, available to residents via the internet. OFA is supporting the application for funding of the scheme.

Peter Rawcliffe outlined the new central government funding arrangements for flood-related works. We discovered about three months ago that the Environment Agency had not applied for any money for Oxford under this new scheme. This came as a bombshell: so to remedy this appalling situation we have submitted suggestions to the EA for them to assess (this entails computer modelling) and then to apply the funding formula which tells one how much funding would be available. Proposals that score highly enough will be put forward for consideration by DEFRA’s Thames Regional Flood and Coastal Committee. Proposals have to be in by the summer and the EA is working to that target. We hope to be able to let you know preliminary results soon.

2011 APM Andrew Smith MP

Andrew Smith, MP for Oxford East (above), kindly thanked OFA for their hard work and success, and offered his continuing support.