Flood Alerts and opposition to OFAS – on the same day …

Today there are Environment Agency Flood Alerts for our area. As we write, water from ditches to the west is starting to accumulate in a corner of King George’s Field, behind Duke and Earl Streets, as it does at the start of every flood. More rain is forecast tonight.

And on the very same day we read of opposition to the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme in the Oxford Mail. The Scheme is designed to save many, many hundreds of homes and businesses from recurrent flooding, at enormous stress, disruption, and financial cost – to individuals, families, businesses, and the whole Oxford community. Climate change is widely expected to make things far worse in the future. We’ve been at this for ten years now and in our opinion (and that of many others) there is no viable alternative, “Green” or otherwise. If we don’t get the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme it’ll simply be a disaster for Oxford.

Advertisements

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.

 

 

Meeting with Layla Moran, MP for Oxford West & Abingdon

We had a successful meeting with Layla Moran, new MP for Oxford West & Abingdon, last week.

We talked about the proposed extension of Seacourt P&R, to which we are strongly opposed. The proposal by Oxford City Council involves building in the floodplain and is in our view clearly contrary to national planning guidance. We see many other problems with the application too. We have submitted detailed comments in the past, and have now made further objections which can be found on the Oxford City Planning website:

https://www.oxford.gov.uk/info/20066/planning_applications/328/view_and_comment_on_planning_applications

The application reference number is 16/02745/CT3.

We shared with Layla our ideas about making the most of the opportunities for freshwater wildlife that the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme (OFAS) offers, and about ensuring robust arrangements for its maintenance long into the future.

Layla
  • is very supportive of our position on Seacourt.
  • aims to raise flooding in Parliament to address issues around how Flood Re is operating.
  • intends to join the All-party parliamentary group, APPG, for Flood Prevention.
  • is going to see what she can do to help secure the remaining money needed for OFAS.
  • was due to meet the Environment Agency soon after meeting us and would raise with them the question of long term maintenance for OFAS.
We look forward to working with Layla in the future.

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.

Meeting with Anneliese Dodds, MP for Oxford East

We met Anneliese Dodds, new MP for Oxford East earlier this week. We had a very useful discussion on a variety of flooding topics, including the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme, that we are going to be approaching local firms for financial support for the Scheme, our interest in environmental enhancement as part of the Scheme and in establishing a local body responsible for its maintenance in perpetuity.

We explained our serious reservations about the proposed extension of Seacourt P&R into the functional flood plain (Flood Zone 3b) and what we see as a flawed Flood Risk Assessment. Such an extension could not only affect flood risk itself but set a precedent which might lead to further encroachment onto the floodplain with potential further increase in flood risk. Anneliese will look at the revised planning application which is expected in due course.

We look forward to working with Anneliese in the future.

OFAS: funding gap

The Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme (OFAS) Sponsoring Group met earlier this month. This group provides high-level oversight of the project and is made up of representatives from the several partner organisations. One topic discussed was the shortfall of £4 million of the £121 million cost of the scheme. As the local ‘grass roots’ community organisation we’re now exploring ways we might engage support from local businesses.