Scheme to reduce flooding in Oxford will NOT put downstream at greater risk 

An independent review of the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme, commissioned by Vale of White Horse District Council, has confirmed that the proposed flood alleviation scheme will have no impact on communities downstream in the Vale or South Oxfordshire.
The Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme will be approximately three miles long and will run from the north of Botley Road to re-join the River Thames near Kennington.  The scheme will reduce the risk of flooding from the River Thames to all homes and businesses in Oxford, as well as to services and major transport routes into the city, particularly around Botley and Abingdon Road.  This will help avoid a repeat of the disruption and damage caused by floods in 2007, 2012 and 2013/14.
Communities downstream were concerned that the Oxford scheme would increase their flood risk.
In 2016 the Environment Agency produced technical modelling using sophisticated computer programmes which showed that the scheme would not change flood risk of communities downstream. As with all Environment Agency modelling this was independently checked.
In 2017, due to local concerns, Vale of White Horse District Council commissioned independent expert, Water Resource Associates, to further review the work carried out by the Environment Agency.
This independent review confirms that the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme will not put communities downstream at any greater risk of flooding. To read the full Water Resource Associates’ review visit whitehorsedc.gov.uk/OFAS.
Cllr Matthew Barber, Leader of Vale of White Horse District Council, said: “This is very positive news.  Although we have always been supportive of the Oxford scheme it was important for us to listen and respond to our residents’ concerns.  We’re pleased that the independent review findings confirm the Environment Agency’s modelling, providing much needed reassurance for downstream communities that they won’t be impacted by the new scheme.
“We know communities by the River Thames will always have concerns over flooding and we will continue to work with them and Environment Agency on feasible and appropriate flood prevention projects, such as the St Helen’s Mill scheme in Abingdon.”
Dr Harvey Rodda from Water Resource Associates said: “After receiving all of the documentation from the Environment Agency and their consultants working on the OFAS we were pleased that a thorough investigation on the potential downstream impacts had taken place and the results showed there would be a negligible impact of flooding on the areas along the downstream reach of the River Thames from Sandford to Mapledurham.”
Jo Larmour, Project Director at the Environment Agency said: “The Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme will have a positive impact on people and communities outside of Oxford. The scheme will reduce disruption to roads and the railway during flooding, a relief to those who commute into Oxford or travel on surrounding transport links. This will also benefit the approximately 7 million people who visit Oxford every year.”
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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.

Annual Public Meeting 2015

Our Annual Public Meeting on 19 November was well attended – we were delighted to welcome many members of the public, local councillors, representatives of all the local flood agencies, an Oxford University researcher and Andrew Smith, MP for Oxford East. Nicola Blackwood, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, and Rodney Rose, Deputy Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, sent their apologies.

Adrian Porter began the evening by setting out our three key current objectives:

  • support for the proposed multi-partner Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme (Oxford FAS)
  • maintenance of existing waterways
  • that as and when the Oxford FAS happens, maintenance should be properly provided for from the start.

He went on to give an overview of the past year including our recent boat trip, with the Environment Agency, which identified necessary maintenance on Weirs Mill Stream: this work is being planned and funding being sought. John Mastroddi provided detail on the clearance under Munday’s bridge, which completes the project begun in 2013. Impending planning applications at Seacourt P&R and Oxford Four Pillars Hotel, both firmly in the floodplain, are on our radar.

Nick Hills, our Treasurer, told us that we had £346 in the bank, enough for several years at the present rate of spending! Nevertheless, being the good treasurer he is, he asked people to leave any donations as they left: this raised a very generous £110. Nick set out some of the things we’d been pleased to see in the year: among those not referred to in more detail later on were the permanent pipe under the Botley Road to allow pumping across the road without disruption to traffic (County and City Councils), Waitrose’s use of SUDS at their new shop and the successful public events for OFAS during the summer.

He explained how we support OFAS in principle and are contributing to the process along with the other partners – but always reserving the right to be a ‘critical friend’.

The first of our guest speakers, Joanna Grew from Network Rail, gave an account of their proposed Hinksey Flood Alleviation Scheme: this includes the clearing of culverts at Coldharbour (for which we have been pushing for some time), track raising and installation of new culverts. More detail can be seen in Joanna’s presentation downloadable here. You can download a leaflet about the scheme here.

James Playfair explained the progress of Thames Water’s ongoing sewer survey across Oxford, the Oxford Catchment Study. This is about to enter its second year: already some issues have been resolved including significant improvements to the pumps at Littlemore Pumping Station. The presentation can be downloaded here.

Last but not least Emma Formoy from the Environment Agency gave the meeting an up-to-date account of the Oxford FAS; Emma mentioned the possible wider benefits of the scheme, including for wildlife, and the crucial importance of rigorous modelling. More detail in the presentation downloadable here: this includes dates of the next round of Public Events in January 2016 when a consultation on the route options for the scheme will begin. These can be also seen in the Oxford FAS Newsletter – November 2015, perhaps more easily. In parallel with these events, people will be able to view these proposed options and partake in the consultation online.

Apart from these individual achievements and plans, what is remarkable, and heartening, is the considerable cooperation, for example sharing of modelling data, between these three agencies – i.e. they talk to each other! As one of us commented later, we have come a very long way since 2007. We are grateful to our guests for coming to talk and for all the work their organisations are doing. The sum (assuming they all reach fruition) will give Oxford a better, and more secure and sustainable, future.

Nick Hills presented Steve Smith, Engineer with Oxford City Council, with our Flood Star award for this year. This is in recognition and thanks for Steve’s sterling work on many flood schemes and smaller works over the years, as well as co-ordinating the Oxford Area Flood Partnership.

Peter Rawcliffe spoke about OFA’s suggestion for maintaining Oxford FAS: as this is to be largely a ‘natural’ channel it will be subject to inevitable deterioration – so providing both a problem and an opportunity. OFA proposes that a trust be established, in perpetuity, to manage for both flood alleviation and wildlife. Trustees could be drawn from the several stakeholders – landowners, local authorities, Environment Agency, academics and wildlife bodies – to name just a few. We believe this is a practical way to make the most of what the scheme offers Oxford and its residents and visitors. This 7km channel will be ever more essential to Oxford if climate change develops as predicted. Each km may cost £18 million to build. We need to treasure it: in our view a local trust with local accountability, and autonomy to manage as it sees fit, fits the bill.

Simon Collings discussed modelling: as mentioned above this is absolutely vital to developing the case for OFAS – both to be as sure as humanly possible that it will work and equally importantly that no one downstream will be disadvantaged. We recently attended a meeting at the School of Geography, Oxford University: Simon explained some of the potential pitfalls of modelling that we had learned of there, and suggested that community review of the OFAS modelling (assisted by expert modellers) be included in the scrutiny process. This in addition to review by academic modeller(s) which is already under discussion for the scheme and which we strongly support.

We thank those who attended for their support and we thank our visiting speakers for helping to make the meeting a success. Our thanks too to the West Oxford Democrats Club for generously allowing us to use their hall once again.

Community meets academia

On 4 November three of us participated in a workshop hosted by Oxford University’s School of Geography and the Environment. The other ten participants included representatives from Pickering flood group in North Yorkshire, from Flood Network, from CAG (Community Action Groups) Oxfordshire, academics from Oxford, Lausanne and London, and communicators.

The workshop focused on the ‘Environmental Competency Group’ concept developed by the Oxford academic team (Prof Sarah Whatmore and Dr Catharina Landström) and exemplified in their working with the local community in Pickering in Yorkshire to develop a flood scheme.

Hydrological and hydraulic computer modelling of flooding are key tools in designing flood alleviation measures. We learnt about the importance of considering, and if needs be challenging, the assumptions underlying the modelling, and the possibility that the terms of reference given to consultant modellers may on occasion be rather restricted, meaning that potential alternatives could be missed. Nor is modelling a perfect process, the quality depending (of course) on the people doing the work. For these reasons independent scrutiny is important. While this could be by a another commercial consultant modelling team, review by academics can add further, expert and independent assurance to the process.

A further check would be a review of the model by community members to see, as far as possible, whether it matched local observations.

More generally we were able to set out how OFA has developed and worked over the past eight years. Likewise, we heard how the Pickering group had worked successfully, with help from the Oxford academic team. There was discussion of how such experience might be shared with others developing community flood groups.

The workshop was both interesting and useful: we thank the organisers and look forward to further collaboration in future.