What we’re hearing from people

Over the last five days we’ve had more than 150 visitors to the OFA website, and recorded 260 page views.  Here’s some of the feedback we’ve been getting in response to recent blog posts and emails about the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme.

I am trying now to filter all the various things I have read and heard thus far but also to explore the whole plan in more detail so that I can reach a fuller understanding of what is being proposed (and what isn’t).

A point which I think is also well made [is] the clear good faith of the Environment Agency.

Thank you so much for your myth-busting email. Truth to tell, I had got very confused by all the flood relief information, so this helps considerably.

It’s good to see some pushback against the (very small?) resistance group.

The EA’s responsibilities cover a wide range: from nuclear regulation to river navigation. It is all rather too easy to take a pop at the Agency for its perceived shortcomings, which may have little – or indeed nothing – to do with the completion of OFAS.

I am full of admiration at the detailed way in which you have explained and defended this scheme. It must go ahead.

I’m quite concerned that people aren’t accessing a range of information about the flood scheme. I’ve written a supportive comment on the planning website.

I’ve read bits and pieces of the planning application and had been generally supportive, but it’s easy to be swayed when you only hear the negative impacts. You’re totally right, we need to think of the bigger picture. A few years of disruption is worth it in my mind to have a scheme in place that protects people’s homes and hopefully generates an even lovelier area across the fields.

Thank you for sending that information through.  I’d seen some of the claims you mentioned and was sceptical of them but didn’t have the information to back up my scepticism (or the time to do the research) so having it laid out like this is really helpful.

I think those involved in getting this project right are doing their best to make us all understand what exactly the plan involves.

We strongly encouraged people interested in the scheme to read what the planning documents say. These can be accessed here: Planning Register | Oxfordshire County Council A good place to start is the ES non-technical summary which provides an overview of the scheme. The deadline for submitting comments on the planning application is 9 May.

Why we should trust the Environment Agency on OFAS

Public trust in politicians and government bodies is low for reasons we all understand. But not all government backed initiatives are bad. Here are eight reasons why OFA trusts the Environment Agency on the Oxford flood scheme design:

  • We’ve been working with the agency since 2007 on flood relief measures, and since 2013 on the large flood relief scheme. We know them well. We developed trust in their professionalism through the implementation of a series of highly effective short-term measures after the 2007 floods.
  • The EA is very responsive to flood events when they occur and have helped to keep us dry on many occasions. The people charged with developing and implementing the OFAS scheme are the same people who have come out to our communities to help during flood events – they want the solution to work as much as we do.
  • The EA, a government agency, is not seeking to make a profit from the scheme, nor are its employees financially rewarded for its implementation (beyond their normal salaries). Staff who work for the EA are instead motivated by the desire to improve the environment in which we live and work.
  • From a very early stage OFA wanted the flood scheme to have environmental goals and not just be about flood relief. The EA and scheme partners responded readily to this proposal. We recommended that the EA engage a local charity as an advisor and Earth Trust was appointed. Planning regulations now require that infrastructure projects show a 10% biodiversity gain, which this project does.
  • This is a very large and complex project, one of the biggest flood schemes in the country. Designing an effective scheme is a highly technical matter and we’re reliant on the expertise of EA staff and the consultants they use to get this right. That doesn’t mean we can’t challenge and ask questions but at some point we have to trust those with technical knowledge.
  • A large infrastructure project like OFAS has to meet standards laid down by central government. The project has developed in stages, each one becoming more detailed, and each requiring sign off by central government departments, including the Treasury. Elements of the scheme design, such as the modelling, have to be verified by external third parties. The scheme has been subject to a great deal of independent professional scrutiny during its development.
  • Public consultation on the scheme began in 2015 and there have been several rounds of public engagement, and many meetings with groups and individuals concerned about aspects of the scheme up to the present. Many modifications to the design have been made in light of feedback.
  • It’s OK to have reservations and still support the scheme. Only after planning is approved can the next level of conversations take place to agree e.g. traffic management plans. This is the same for any large infrastructure project, but unlike some other large projects the EA have already committed to ongoing discussions, to listen, and to work with communities. 

As a society we have to have mechanisms for making and acting on decisions if we’re going to respond effectively to the climate emergency. OFA believes we need to get on with constructing the scheme before another major flood hits us. If we allow this scheme to be rejected we risk there never being a scheme for Oxford. As a minimum there would be many years of delay and during that period we would be at the whim of changing governments, changing legislation and changing priorities. We also risk losing the existing team who are invested in the current proposal, know the area well and have fought hard on our behalf to get the project this far. 

Busting a few myths about OFAS

Here’s a fact check on some of the more exotic claims being made about the proposed Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme. Many of these issues have been around for some time – but misinformation continues to circulate about them.

Myth 1: The two-stage channel provides very little benefit and the scheme would work without it

The key document to look at on the County Council Planning Portal is ES App Q Modelling Review of No Channel. This compares modelling data for the scheme as designed with options of having no two- stage channel at all or no channel in Hinksey Meadow. The report goes on to discuss the impact of having no channel on the performance of various elements of the scheme, and likely consequences.

With the channel all but 367 houses and 151 businesses are protected against a one in a hundred year flood event. With no channel at all 524 houses and 210 businesses would be unprotected. That means an additional 157 houses and 59 businesses would be at risk of flooding in a one in one hundred- year event. Over and above this, protective earth bunds and walls, a key part of the scheme, would need to be higher and longer, and in some places this would not be achievable putting properties and infrastructure at risk.

App Q also says:

In addition, the freeboard below bridge soffits would also need to be increased to meet the agreed consenting requirements for this scheme. This would make the raised bridges more visually intrusive in the landscape and increase the length of approach ramps to bridges which then creates additional restrictions across the floodplain.

Removing the two-stage channel just in Hinksey Meadow obviously has a less severe impact on the effectiveness of the scheme. The modelling for this option shows 438 houses unprotected (an increase of 71 compared to the scheme as designed) and 172 businesses (21 more).

The scheme is not just about individual homes and businesses but also roads, cycle routes, utilities, other infrastructure, disruption to city life. The channel provides a defined route for the additional floodwater to pass through the western floodplain – it brings certainty and reliability. Without the channel floodwaters are dispersed, increasing flood risk in some areas. When all factors are weighed up the scheme as designed offers the best option according to the review.

Myth 2: The ‘Hinskey Meadows’ will be ‘destroyed’

Hinksey Meadow, north of Willow Walk near North Hinksey (owned by Oxford Preservation Trust) is home to rare grassland. Most of the rest of the scheme area is agricultural land with relatively poor biodiversity. The scheme proposes taking up to 1.3ha of Hinksey Meadow for the two-stage channel, the rest of the meadow (11.7ha) will be preserved, and considerable attention has been given to ensuring the hydrology in the area is not affected by the scheme.

In the rest of the scheme area 17.8 ha of additional flower rich meadows will be created. This will obviously not have the diversity of Hinksey Meadow but over the life of the scheme these meadows will increase significantly in complexity. Wetland areas will also be created along the course of the new stream, and the whole scheme area will be actively managed for biodiversity. None of this will happen if we maintain the status quo.

Myth 3: Maintenance has only been budgeted for 15 years

All costs, including maintenance for 100 years, are costed and form part of the overall economic analysis, and specific funding sources have been identified for the first 10 years. No construction project is required to specify exactly where maintenance costs will be met from fifty or a hundred years from now. That’s impossible. Any alternative proposal would face the same issue. 

Myth 4: Construction means 114 HGV vehicle movements a day on and off the A34 for 3-5 years

Construction of the channel is expected to take 3 years. Movement of soil from the site will take place mainly in a 15 month period spread over two summers. The EA is proposing to bring forward a separate planning application to use rail to move a significant amounts of material which will substantially reduce road use.

Myth 5: Construction will result in a big increase in carbon emissions

The ES Non-technical summary for the scheme says:

The whole life carbon dioxide emissions over the project life are estimated at 19,558 tonnes and the operational carbon is 4.65% of this (i.e. 909 tonnes) based on the proposed maintenance regime. To put this into context, a 2019 Oxford City Council report stated that carbon dioxide emissions from the city in 2017-2018 were 718,362 tonnes per year. The emissions due to the Scheme including operation for 100 years would be equivalent to the direct emissions from the city for less than 10 days.

The planning documents referred to above can be found here: https://myeplanning.oxfordshire.gov.uk/Planning/Display/MW.0027/22#undefined Look under ‘Documents’ and use the search bar to locate the document you are looking for. A full description of all design options considered for the scheme is set out in the Environmental Statement, section 2.3.

Flood scheme video

As reported in our previous post, The Environment Agency has now submitted the planning application for the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme for approval by the County Council. This video shows why the scheme is needed, and how it will work. The Oxford Flood Alliance has been campaigning for a comprehensive flood scheme of this scale for many years. OFAS is one of the biggest flood schemes currently planned in England.

The proposed scheme will not only reduce flood risk, but will also create new wetland habitat and floodplain meadow. OFA believes the scheme represents an opportunity to enhance local biodiversity over the life of the scheme.

OFA is one of nine partners working with the Environment Agency on the scheme, and a member of the OFAS Sponsoring Group.

Maintenance and meadow management

We understand that an update on the search for an environmental partner for the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme (the Scheme) is likely to come soon. 

We have all along pressed to see the best possible done environmentally: having an expert partner to help manage the environmental aspects of the Scheme, while at the same time maintaining it for its purpose of flood relief, over the decades ahead, seems the ideal way.

Floodplains, with their meadows and wetland areas, are a valuable, and increasingly less common, habitat, demanding expertise to manage them well. So we’re waiting expectantly to learn what’s been happening.

Flood exercise today

The flood exercise mentioned in the last post, testing and demonstrating readiness to deploy defences, is under way today. In South Hinksey temporary barriers are being set up by the Environment Agency (EA). At Bullstake Close on the Botley Road the barriers there, which have been used before in a flood, will be erected; and fire crews are showing how the pipe which has been installed under the Botley Road can be used to deal with flood water and reduce the flooding of the road.

For South Hinksey this is a very reassuring demonstration of the ability to now defend the village from flooding. Such barriers have never been used here before.

Of course Oxford still needs a bigger, more permanent scheme – in the form of the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme. The OFA update in the previous post summarises the present position – the Scheme is under way, albeit delayed. In the meantime today’s activities show that we will not be without  protection in the interim.

Emma Howard-Boyd, Chair of the EA, and Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive, are in South Hinksey today to see what’s being done and meet the teams and there is no doubt that protecting Oxford in both the short and long term is being taken very seriously.

Our thanks to everyone who is working hard on behalf of the many local residents, businesses and other organisations affected by flooding.

OFA Update / OFAS & Flood Exercise

This update has recently been sent to those on our mailing list.

Dear OFA contact,

We last sent out an update in Oct 2019, just after the news about the problems with the A423 bridge (southern bypass) and likely delays to the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme (OFAS). OFA is still active and has been participating in meetings of the Sponsoring Group for the OFAS scheme and has also held separate meetings with the Environment Agency team about water course maintenance since our last update.

Despite the A423 issues, and the challenges presented by coronavirus, the OFAS scheme continues to progress. The EA and the County Council have agreed a collaborative approach to replacing the A423 bridge and constructing the OFAS scheme. This should save on costs for OFAS, and reduce the level of maintenance required in future.

The EA withdrew the original planning application earlier in the year and is currently revising this to incorporate the new A423 arrangements, and to update the documents on some other aspects of the scheme. Once these are resubmitted to the planning authority the public will have a fresh opportunity to comment on the plans. The EA is continuing to meet with objectors to the scheme with a view to trying to address outstanding areas of public concern.

Because OFAS is now expected to be delivered two years later than originally expected it is important that effective flood response procedures are in place in case a major flood event happens in the next few years. The EA, Fire Brigade and the local Council officials will be holding a practice response on 20 August to test aspects of current procedures. Because of coronavirus these will not involve the pubic.

The text of a recent update from the Environment Agency is pasted below which provides some additional information on OFAS and other matters,

OFA Steering Group

Oxford Scheme update

A423 bridge replacement

Oxfordshire County Council began the propping work on the A423 Kennington Railway Bridge in July.

Replacement of the A423 Bridge has provided an opportunity to design and build the bridge and the flood scheme together. This allows us to reduce disruption during construction and ensure the best use of public money. The updated design will use open channels instead of culverts to allow the flow of floodwater under the bridge. This will provide a better environment for wildlife and requires less maintenance.

The bridge is at the southern end of the scheme and during a flood, water would need to pass underneath it to re-join the River Thames. This capacity needs to be in place before the scheme is constructed to avoid increasing flood risk elsewhere. We also need to have all approvals, including planning permission and our Compulsory Purchase Order secured.

South Hinksey Archaeology

If you’ve been walking near South Hinksey, you may have spotted our contractors on site. We are carrying out archaeology surveys in a field near South Hinksey village to check whether the area is suitable for us to use as the main compound for when we construct the scheme. The archaeology surveys will determine whether there are any historical artefacts in the field. We want to ensure there’s no risk of us damaging any artefacts or remains. Once we have finished the investigations, we will remove our equipment from the site and reinstate the fields.

Kendall Copse Ground Investigations

To complement the new A423 bridge replacement, we are reviewing the design of the scheme around Kendall Copse, near Kennington.

From 10 August, we will be digging trial pits and drilling boreholes to understand the ground conditions beneath the site in order to finalise these designs.

Oxford Flood Incident Exercise

To ensure our flood protection plans are well-tested, the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme partners and emergency responders will be practicing their incident response plans on 20 August 2020.

The flood response exercise will consist of:

 •temporary flood barriers in South Hinksey and Bullstake Close

•pumps to remove flood water along Botley Road

Due to the current Government guidance on public gatherings, we won’t be able to invite members of the community to attend. We will be sharing updates on Twitter and Facebook as the exercise progresses. We will also share video footage of the temporary barriers and pumps so you can see our field teams in action.

Managing your flood risk

During the summer months, flood risk might be low on your list of priorities, but Environment Agency officers are thinking about it year-round. Throughout the year our operations staff carry out inspections and clear debris to keep main rivers moving. To report a blockage that could cause flooding call our 24 incident hotline: 0800 80 70 60.

You can also find out what maintenance is planned in your area: environment.data.gov.uk/asset-management/index.html

Stay prepared by signing up for flood alerts and preparing a flood plan: https://flood-warning-information.service.gov.uk

  

Want to know more?

If you have any questions or want to be added to our mailing list, please contact us at: OxfordScheme@environment-agency.gov.uk

Storm Dennis

Appalling floods in Wales (and elsewhere) https://www.bbc.co.uk/news

The Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme is, unfortunately, delayed but is still as much needed as ever. In fact more so – as Earth continues to heat up the changing climate is producing more extreme weather and consequent severe flooding.

River levels above, and in and around, Oxford have already risen quite a bit since the storm’s rain over the weekend, and the next few days will see further rises in Oxford as the water makes its way downstream from the Cotswolds. It remains to be seen how big these rises are. You can follow local river levels and the flow rate upstream at Farmoor here.

Concern in the Oxford area

There is increasing concern today that water levels are high in the Oxford area, with a good deal more water still to come down to Oxford from the Cotswolds catchment. The area is presently (midday) on an EA Flood Alert (the lowest level of concern).

We’re seeing more flooding globally, Venice is badly hit at the moment – and the awful flooding in the north of England continues.

There is no doubt that the climate is changing. Oxford has always flooded but the change will make it more common and more severe. The immediate threat may recede now, let’s hope so, but it highlights again that it’s imperative that Oxford is better protected, not only for the many people directly affected but for the city itself to continue to function and thrive into the future.

The multi-partner Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme is in process and all concerned are working hard to make it happen as soon as humanly possible. As we have said before, “it can’t come soon enough.”