OFAS: Environmental meeting

OFA attended a briefing yesterday (22 May 2018) on the Environmental Statement which forms part of the OFAS planning application. This was organised by the Environment Agency (EA) specifically for local environmental groups. Penny Burt, Phil Marsh and Graham Scholey for the EA covered different aspects of the scheme, and provided updates on the various environmental assessments being conducted.

The scheme will result in the creation of a continuous area of marshy meadow either side of the new channel with various scrapes and ponds to enhance the habitat value. Overall biodiversity should be improved and strengthened.

But there are downsides. Rich grassland meadow in some areas will be lost, and while there are plans to create more of this habitat elsewhere in the scheme this is not without risk. Trees will be lost in some areas, though compensated for elsewhere. Some views will change significantly, e.g. along Willow Walk, and at Kendal Copse just north of Kennington.

Several useful comments were made by participants in the meeting about ways to enhance environmental benefits from the scheme which the EA will think about.

Ongoing effective management of the project will be critical and the Environment Agency is now exploring detailed proposals around this with various local wildlife organisations. OFA welcomes the idea of collaboration between the EA and local bodies, but is arguing that whatever arrangements are set up there needs to be a mechanism of accountability to the public, so that local interested parties can understand what is being undertaken, and what achieved – both for flood relief and for wildlife.

 

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Seacourt – Possible Costs

This seems a potentially costly proposal.

Capital 

1) Present budget £4.1 million

2) Difficulty of building in low-lying ground with a high groundwater level in winter

3) Possible need to stabilise unstable ground by treating it with lime to a metre depth

4) Difficulties of creating a working SuDS in a flood plain

Income

5) Occupancy likely to be low

6) Periodically out of use due to groundwater and fluvial flooding, pumping out, repair and maintenance

Maintenance

7) Pumping out (will be required according to the Applicant)

8) Repair of damage to surfaces and buildings – may be extensive after major floods

9) Cleaning and restoration of the porous surfaces required for SuDS

Other

Given the risks associated with large floods and the likely depths and flow rates here, possibly

  • compensation for damage to vehicles, including any swept away
  • compensation for loss of life.

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.

Our comments on Oxford Local Plan 2036

Oxford Local Plan 2036
“Oxford City Council is producing a new Local Plan for Oxford. The Local Plan is important because it will shape how Oxford develops.” (from the ‘Preferred Options’ document for the Plan, Oxford City Council). The Council called for comments and we wrote recently as follows:

We wish to submit the following comments in relation to the proposed Oxford Local Plan 2036. Our comments all relate to flood risk.

Overall we are satisfied that the City Council has adopted an appropriate strategic approach to development and flood risk in the city, with new development targeted towards areas least at risk from flooding. We welcome the recognition in the document that flooding is a significant risk for the city and that this needs to be managed.
 
On the specific sections relating to flooding in the Preferred Option, we would like to see reference to the need to actively maintain watercourses in the city so that they function freely during times of flooding. We’re surprised that the SFRA Decembrer 2016 makes no mention of the need for clearing of trash gates, and the removal of vegetation and fallen trees from streams and ditches. Riparian owners in the city need to be encouraged to maintain water courses.
 
On Option 38A we would prefer to see adoption of a policy which states that there will be no development of previously undeveloped land in flood zone 3b. As the SFRA notes, this is the position in the current Core Strategy and we see no argument for weakening this.The new plan does not designate greenfield sites in zone 3b for development.
We recognise that water compatible structures and essential infrastructure may, in exceptional circumstance, be permitted in zone 3b under the NPPF. But the Council’s recent attempts to argue that an extension to the Seacourt Park & Ride constituted ‘essential infrastructure’ caused the Oxford Flood Alliance considerable concern. While references to NPPF in the Council’s proposed Local Plan may appear to provide safeguards to the public, these are significantly weakened if the Council intends to ‘interpret’ NPPF along the lines argued for the P&R extension or similar. We believe the plan document needs to provide clarity on this.

 If Preferred Option 38A is adopted as proposed we wish to state for the record that we interpret this to mean that NPPF will be strictly applied. It is clear in Table 2 and 3 in this Guidance Note what ‘Water Compatible’ and ‘Essential Infrastructure’ mean. We are therefore interpreting the Council’s policy to mean what the NPPF guidance says it means. This does not include car parks.

In Option 56A we would like to see a reference to riparian owners responsibility to maintain water courses. Simply treating them as a design feature isn’t sufficient.

 

OFA Steering Group

OFAS: Environmental meeting

Attended an environmental update meeting yesterday, organised by the EA with a number of local environmental stakeholders attending. A lot of thought is going into making the most of possible environmental enhancements that the Scheme can bring.

Led by Penny Burt of the Environment Agency we covered surveys, ecological trial areas, archaeology, low-flows and existing watercourses, fish passage, Hinksey Meadow, trees and bridges, habitat creation and access. Also mentioned was future maintenance – we felt that the plans were not nearly long-term enough and this was discussed.

For our part we are working closely with the Freshwater Habitats Trust. The Oxford area is rich in freshwater species, though there is, nevertheless, a long term decline: this Scheme could help reverse that trend. We’d like to give the public, including school children, a chance to be involved, including with data collection in the field – sometimes called ‘citizen science’.

The damselflies in the photographs are closely associated with the freshwater habitat.

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.

 

Further comment on Network Rail’s planning application for track-raising

We submitted our comments on the latest revision (A02) of Network Rail’s flood risk assessment (FRA) for their planning application for track-raising yesterday.

The planning application is number 15/03703 and details can be found on Oxford City Council’s planning portal https://www.oxford.gov.uk/info/20066/planning_applications/328/view_and_comment_on_planning_applications

The application is going to West Area Planning Committee for determination on 3 May at 2 pm at the Town Hall.

See also our earlier post https://oxfordfloodalliance.org.uk/2016/03/28/network-rails-planning-application-for-track-raising/

Brainstorm meeting: maintaining OFAS

We hosted a meeting today to discuss how we could maintain the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme for both flood relief and the environment over the next century. We had an excellent meeting: in attendance were Rodney Rose (County), Chris Brown (County), Bob Price (City). Penny Burt (EA), Emma Formoy (EA), Giles Strother (BBOWT), Jeremy Biggs (Freshwater Habitats Trust), John Mastroddi (OFA), Nick Hills (OFA), Adrian Porter (OFA), Tim Treacher (SOFAG), Rachel Sanderson (OPT), Judy Webb (ecologist and Ashmolean Rare Plants Group), Peter Rawcliffe (OFA), Simon Collings (OFA), Peter Thompson (Civic Society), Peter Lefort (CAG).

The main question: ‘How might we best organise things to keep the channel working well and make the best of all the benefits over the next 100 years?’ There was excellent discussion with the following conclusions:

There was a general agreement with the idea of coordinating management of OFAS, and that this could bring cost savings and enhanced benefits from the scheme.

It is currently unclear what form the coordinating body would take but it is clear that riparian owners will continue to own their land and will be responsible for managing that land. Their participation in the coordinating structure is therefore key.

More detail about exactly what the required maintenance will be, and how this splits across hard physical assets, the stream and the secondary channel is needed before a further discussion.

In the meantime it was agreed that work to consolidate the ecological vision for OFAS was needed. Conversations are already going on with various stakeholders about this and a draft set of ambitions exists. It was agreed that we should build on these.