Severe flooding in Wales – a timely reminder

We’ve had a dry summer, river flows are low and flooding may seem a long way off. But it’s always a threat as this article on the BBC website today, about severe flooding in Wales, reminds one:

Storm Callum: Parts of Wales see ‘worst flooding in 30 years’

Whether this event is due in some part to climate change may be impossible to know for sure, but there is no doubt that extreme weather events are becoming more frequent across the world. Now is the time to prepare Oxford for that future.

The planning application for the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme is being scrutinised; if approved Oxford’s flood risk will be reduced. Without it Oxford will remain largely undefended and future generations will rightly ask why something wasn’t done while the opportunity was there.

See too https://oxfordfloodalliance.org.uk/2015/12/08/flooding-from-storm-desmond/

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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.

OFAS – trees

Here’s the full answer from the EA:

Overall the scheme will need to remove around 300 individual trees and 57 groups of trees. The partial removal of a further 44 tree groups will also be required.

We don’t recognise where the figure of ‘4000 trees’ has come from.  The reason we talk in terms of “groups” of trees, is because we carried out the trees survey and impact assessment work in line with the British Standard for this type of work. This instructs to use the term “group” specifically to identify trees that form a cohesive feature – such as a group that together provide shelter, or together provide a visible screen. The term “individual trees” is only used for trees that are surveyed as being particularly large. So these terms ‘individual’ and ‘group’ are the required way of classifying trees for assessment.

We don’t currently have specific numbers for trees to be felled and planted, but what we can say is that the tree-planting proposal results in more woodland within the scheme after completion than at present. This will include species that are found locally, such as oak, alder, willow, field maple, hawthorn, blackthorn and wild privet. These woodland areas will be managed for wildlife and include glades that are sown with wildflowers to encourage butterflies and other insects, as well as birds and foraging bats.

We have designed the scheme to keep tree loss to a minimum and once a contractor has been appointed we will work with them to see where we can further minimise losses wherever possible.

Postscript on Seacourt P&R extension

Members of OFA steering group, along with Councillor Colin Cook, and Stephanie Ouzman (a member of MP Layla Moran’s staff), met with Council officers and their consultants WYG on 27 April 2018 to try to obtain answers to a series of questions about the proposed Seacourt P&R extension. Subsequent to the meeting there was a further email exchange and answers were provided to a number of outstanding points by the Council. We appreciate having had this opportunity for dialogue about the issues, and now feel we understand what is being proposed.

It’s clear from the response from the Council that the planning documents did not provide a clear reference to the use of an impermeable membrane at the site. It wasn’t spelled out in the application, and the documents give no details of the tanking and how this would work. This has now been explained to us.

We believe we should have been able to get answers, as of right, on points of issue like this through the planning consultation. The fact that we couldn’t was a failure of the process, and below the standards we have observed in other applications locally. The County (LLFA), Environment Agency and planning officer didn’t, in our view, fully understand what WYG were proposing – this is clear from correspondence with them during and subsequent to the planning process. Councillors, therefore, approved a proposal which had information gaps in it on flood risk, and which they couldn’t have fully understood. In our view this happened because the planning outcome had already been pre-determined, and our queries were ignored because the process was designed to secure a particular outcome. 

Now that we know what’s actually proposed, we don’t believe (as far as we can judge) that the development poses an immediate and direct flood risk to local properties, which is obviously a welcome outcome. But all development in Flood Zone 3B by its very nature creates a risk to the consistent and predictable functioning of floodplains. Hence planning policy, which incorporates learning outcomes from decades of previous developments in areas subject to flooding, prohibits such developments because the medium and long-term consequences can be unexpected and far-reaching. 

We believe the development is inconsistent with planning guidelines – building in the floodplain and Green Belt – but recognise the planning officer advised otherwise, and that Councillors agreed with his interpretation. We regret that the Secretary of State did not choose to examine this issue, and believe the Council’s decision sets an unfortunate planning precedent. We also remain unconvinced of the need case.

The car park extension will be an additional source of pollution during a flood, and there is no way to stop this. This is undesirable, and a negative environmental impact. The Seacourt P&R extension is just to the north of OFAS which has an ‘environmental vision’ aiming to improve freshwater habitat – a vision the Council signed up to. 

If the development goes ahead, we’ll be watching with interest to see how often if floods and how the local authority deals with this. At times of flooding the car park will be a potential source of risk to users and members of the public. We will also continue to be vigilant about further planning applications brought forward by the Council, as the process has left us feeling we can’t rely on the local planning authority, or members of Council planning committees, to safeguard the public interest. We hope public concerns will be better addressed should any similar situation arise in future.

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.

 

Flood scheme and bridges

There’s an article in the Oxford Mail on the new bridges proposed as part of the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme at Willow Walk and North Hinksey Causeway. We agree with the Oxford Preservation Trust that it’s very important to get these right – with materials and design appropriate for these much-loved and ancient settings.

Note too that Oxford Preservation Trust is hosting a meeting to discuss plans for the channel at The Fishes, North Hinksey, on Thursday, May 31, from 6.30pm to 8pm. At least one of us plans to be there.

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.

 

 

Rodney Rose

We were very sorry to hear that County Councillor Rodney Rose has died at the weekend. Rodney was cabinet member for flooding for a number of year and we got to know him well. He attended several of our evening Annual Public Meetings. He was very much involved in organising a ‘Flood Summit’ which led to the start of the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme (OFAS); he then co-chaired the Scheme’s Sponsoring Group until last year. He was an excellent Chairman, not only did meetings always run to time but they were brightened by his lively sense of humour. Provided that OFAS goes ahead, it will be an important and significant part of the public legacy he leaves behind. Our condolences go to his family.

http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/16096673._True_gent__and_former_deputy_leader_of_county_council_Rodney_Rose_has_died/

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.

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.