OFA Update, 30 September 2018

We’ve just sent this update to our mailing list

Dear OFA contact,

Since our last update at the beginning of April, the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme has been progressing through the planning process, and the Environment Agency is waiting for direction from the County Council following a period of public consultation on the plans. It is likely that an updated suite of documents will be published, and made available for public comment, but the EA is expecting to be granted permission later this year. As part of the implementation the EA is expecting to acquire some land under compulsory purchase orders and notices have gone up recently around the project area about this. Construction is expected to begin in 2019 and take three years to complete.

Some of you may be aware that in recent weeks a group called Hinskey and Osney Environment Group has been formed and has been voicing opposition to the scheme. Much of their case is based on misunderstandings of what is actually being proposed, and we are engaged in trying to correct these misapprehensions, including talking with some of the people involved in HOEG – see https://oxfordfloodalliance.org.uk/2018/09/28/ofas-clarifications-and-explanations/ for more detail.

The creation of the scheme will involve disruption, trees will be removed (but then replanted, with a net gain across the scheme) and the appearance of the landscape will be a little different after the scheme is complete. We understand why this causes concern, but the EA assure us they will be making every effort to minimise the impact.

We’ve spent a lot of time working on options over the years there is in our view no effective alternative to the two stage channel proposed by the EA. This is a fairly ‘natural’ scheme – very far from a concrete channel. This fits well with our vision that OFAS should create a scheme which becomes a haven for nature, where biodiversity is increased. This is something OFA has pushed for and contributed to developing, and which we believe in very strongly. For example, the plans include new features such as scrapes and ponds, and the gradual slope of the second stage channel adds a hydrological gradient – meaning new and varied wildlife habitats. And it’s proposed that the day-to-day management work (at least on those areas owned by the EA) will be by local environmental organisations familiar with managing land for nature, contracted to the EA. We’re looking forward to the scheme area becoming much richer in wildlife than it is now, an asset the city can be proud of and that people can enjoy.

Some people appear to be concerned that the building of OFAS will result in more development in the floodplain. We don’t believe this will happen. The floodplain will still flood, even with OFAS, and in our view the existence of a managed, environmentally rich, scheme, with much of the land owned by the EA, will actually reduce the risk of further development.

The other major issue we’ve been working on, apart from OFAS, is the Seacourt Park & Ride extension. We had a meeting with the City Council at which we were able to obtain details of the design of the sustainable drainage system for the car park. This allayed our concerns about displacement of groundwater, but we remain concerned about the way compensation for displacement of floodwater by the extension is planned. We have asked the EA to explain the science on which their ‘no objection’ was based, and we’ve asked them to identify the professional advice on which they rely. The EA seems to be struggling to provide an answer to these simple questions, and we’re still waiting for a satisfactory response. Our view currently is that the extension of the P&R, in the manner proposed, would reduce flood storage capacity in the floodplain.

We will be presenting at the annual Oxford Area Flood Partnership meeting at Oxford Town Hall on 2 October, 6-8pm. There will also be presentations from the EA, local councils and Thames Water on what’s been happening in the city to reduce flood risk over the past year. Please come along.

OFA will hold its next public meeting in the spring. Further details will follow in due course.

OFA Steering Group.

To be added to (or removed from) our email list go to our Contacts page.

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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.

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.

 

 

Seacourt on today’s letters page

Two letters in today’s Oxford Times.

One from us on the fact that extra capacity is simply not needed.

See too the recent parking spaces data in an earlier post.

Would not live signs on the ring road, showing availability at the park and rides be a good idea, optimising the usage of the substantial existing capacity?

Contrary to claims in the Application, our analysis suggests that, for traffic from the south, in terms of time taken to reach the car park from the A34, Redbridge (the bigger of the two) is almost always a quicker option than Seacourt.

The other letter is from Adrian Rosser on the extensive clearance that’s been going on on the site before the Planning Committee has even met to consider the application.

Now we are 10

The original meeting at which an Oxford flood grouping, soon named the Oxford Flood Alliance, was agreed on, was held in the Waterman’s Arms (now The Punter), Osney Island, on Thursday 29 November 2007. Simon Collings, Nick Hills, John Mastroddi and Peter Rawcliffe have been involved from the start.

Andy Webber, Mike Hamblett (also both in at the start) and Brian Durham are no longer on the Steering Group but have each made very significant contributions over the years.

Adrian Porter and Liz Sawyer are the newest, and valued, members of our team.

Very importantly our personal partners have been there with vital support throughout – thank you all.

A great deal has happened in the 10 years, with authorities now well working together to reduce risk and cope with floods when they arrive. We never dreamt in 2007 how much this would become a part of our lives – innumerable meetings and phone calls and thousands of emails later, we are working  with people who are now close partners, some of whom we met at the start, others along the way. We have been called ‘a critical friend’ and are pleased by that.

We continue to work to promote what we see as the best for the people and the city of Oxford and area: currently of course the multi-million multi-partner Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme. More on that in a later post.

Nevertheless, we have not sold out to the authorities! – we oppose things we see as contrary to our prime aim – to reduce flood risk. The current example is our total opposition to Oxford City Council’s proposal to extend Seacourt Park and Ride into the floodplain. No one has been able to produce another example of such a travesty anywhere else in the country. If allowed it would set a very dangerous precedent nationally.

We expect our 11th (we had two one year) Annual Public Meeting will be in February 2018.

OFA objections to revised Seacourt P&R FRA

We have submitted our comments on the revised Flood Risk Assessment (FRA) submitted by the Applicant, Oxford City Council, as part of its application to extend Seacourt Park and Ride into the floodplain north of the Botley Road, Oxford. It seems that this is being proposed as a panic response to a perceived lack of parking for the new city-centre Westgate development – that development has been known about for years and this application is evidence of a failure to plan properly for it.

We are opposed to this application on flood risk grounds and do not believe that the FRA gives a proper assessment of the risks.

The application is contrary to national planning advice and if allowed would set a most serious precedent nationally. Despite being asked, the Applicant has failed to supply a single example of where a similar development has been allowed,  in Flood Zone 3(b) – the floodplain proper, elsewhere.

There are risks of both groundwater and river (fluvial) flooding of this particularly low-lying site. We are not satisfied that the development, in the floodplain, would not increase risk elsewhere. It would put vehicles, and more importantly people, at risk during flood events: in a very big flood the water could be 2 metres deep and flowing fast. Washed away cars could block the nearby river (whether this is the existing channel or the proposed Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme channel) and bridge, preventing water getting away from the Botley Road area and making flooding there worse.

The car park is likely to be particularly expensive to build as the ground is inherently unstable and will almost certainly need special ‘lime stabilisation’.

It would be unusable during floods and require protracted pumping out and clean up afterwards – expensive in itself and losing revenue while the car park was closed.

It’s our view that the need for for this extension has not  been demonstrated, nor the economic case made. It could easily prove a costly white elephant, an embarrassment to the Council, an extra expense on a already strained public purse, and a risk to public safety.

Oxford is subject to regular and damaging flooding – its floodplain should never be a place for a car park. For its own City Council to be proposing such a thing is hard to understand. When this was first proposed the same Council was simultaneously proposing to remove a large number of spaces at Redbridge P&R a mere 3 miles away – whether that is still the case we do not know but it does rather suggest a lack of co-ordinated planning.

We hope Oxford City councillors will see that this idea is a disaster in the making and show their good sense in abandoning it.

The many objections to the proposal can be seen on the Oxford City Council planning website (search for Seacourt) https://www.oxford.gov.uk/info/20066/planning_applications/328/view_and_comment_on_planning_applications

Our own recent objection is also here as a pdf.

OFA Update, August 2017

We have just sent this to the people on our mailing list:

Since our last update in February this year we have seen further steady progress on the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme (OFAS), designed to reduce flood risk for hundreds of properties in Oxford and nearby. We have been involved in several ways:
  • As part of the Sponsoring Group, the body representing the various partners in the scheme and having overall responsibility for it.
  • Urging that maintenance be provided for in perpetuity rather than just 10 years. We have proposed setting up a dedicated body to be responsible for this; this idea has received good support. We are discussing with the Environment Agency and partners other possible approaches, and if an independent body, what corporate structure might be best.
  • We have been working with the Freshwater Habitats Trust and the Environment Agency to try to ensure that the scheme (while it will regrettably involve some environmental losses) can incorporate significant environmental enhancements too, including the important freshwater habitat.
  • We are supporting the EA if their efforts to close the funding gap for the scheme – currently at $4m. This money needs to be found by the end of November if the scheme is to go ahead.
  • We have participated in a number of public consultation events about the route of the scheme.
OFAS is running to schedule, and assuming the money is found the next major step is application for planning permission, probably in spring 2018.
 
Local matters
Earl Street has a new, dedicated, mobile pump that will be available to them in the event of future floods. Nick Hills, an Earl Street resident and member of our Steering Group, applied successfully for a generous grant, £20,000, from Scottish & Southern Electricity Networks.
South Hinksey groundworks have been completed, meaning the village is now ‘temporary barrier ready’ when floods next threaten. Many thanks to the Vale of the White Horse District Council for funding and to the Environment Agency, especially engineer Magnus Williams, for all the hard work that’s made this happen.
Both areas can now look forward to the coming winter with more confidence.
Seacourt Park & Ride
As reported previously we opposed the application by Oxford City Council to extend this P&R into the flood plain. The application did not, in our view, show that flood risk would not be increased. We believe that a revised application will be advertised at some point and we will scrutinise this with care. The timeframe for this is currently not clear.
Local MPs
Following the elections this year we have two new MPs, Anneliese Dodds for Oxford East, and Layla Moran for Oxford West & Abingdon; we are in the process of meeting and briefing them on flood related matters. Both MPs are supportive of the need for a flood scheme.
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.

Our “2016” Annual Public Meeting – in Feb 2017

We hold an Annual Public Meeting, which has been in November up to now. This makes it close to the annual Oxford Area Flood Partnership meeting and the two have increasingly overlapped in content. We decided then that our “2016” meeting would be better held later. It will be on Wednesday 22 February 2017 at 7pm for 7.30. The venue as before, the Demos’ Club on Osney Island, Oxford. We will have speakers from the Environment Agency (on the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme), Thames Water (on their sewer survey) and Network Rail (on their track raising, waterway clearance and culvert installation). Everybody is very welcome.