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.


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.



Oxfordshire County Council

19 January 2013

Oxfordshire County Council recently voted in favour of a 5% increase in the contributions of all county councils in the Thames region to the regional flood levy fund, and the vote was (just) carried in favour. This far-sighted move means that more central government funds will be attracted to schemes in Oxfordshire, rather than going elsewhere in the country. Effective flood defences for areas at highest risk will in turn curb the ever-increasing drain on Council funds when floods occur. We congratulate the Council and look forward to seeing schemes across the county in the places most at risk. Oxford is one such and we look forward to helping if we can.

Flooding on the way AGAIN? – government funding sorely needed

24 November 2012

Today we’re watching river levels rise and fields flooding; it‘s still raining and more is forecast. Will properties flood again?

The Oxford Flood Strategy flood prevention scheme, produced by the Environment Agency after years of work, was going to cost £150 million. The government’s new partnership funding scheme, introduced subsequently, would provide 7% of the money required. 93%, about £140 million, would have to come from the County, the City, the Vale, businesses, and residents. That’s totally unrealistic.

Every flood costs a huge amount. Only government has sufficient capital to invest to stop this recurring problem. But the government doesn’t seem to appreciate that money spent on flood defences is money exceedingly well spent. In economic terms alone it’s TEN TIMES better value than the controversial HS2 rail scheme.

Changing weather patterns look set to make flooding more and more common. Throughout Holland defences are designed to limit flooding to once in 1000 years or better. The Oxford Flood Strategy offered 1 in 75-100 year protection; at present we have almost none.

This country could afford adequate flood defences if the political will were there. The government must grasp the issue, supplement the present funding scheme, and invest serious money. Failure to do so will cost far, far more. And that’s not counting the human misery.

Meeting with senior members of the Environment Agency

8 November 2010

Peter Rawcliffe, representing the Oxford Flood Alliance, met with David Jordan, national Director of Operations at the Environment Agency, John Russon, Head of Operations, Howard Davidson, Regional Director, and Matt Carter and Barry Russell from the local EA area, on a recent visit to Oxford. We were pleased to have such an opportunity.

A wide-ranging discussion included:

A presentation by OFA emphasising the crucial importance of improving things at Munday’s underbridge in north Kennington.

How community flood groups form and become involved (‘the Big Society’) in working with the EA on flooding. The difficulties of establishing such engagement where it does not already exist.

Attitude to risk and particularly how it relates to the Big Scheme (OFRMS) for Oxford. OFA said there was public scepticism about whether the Big Scheme would ever happen and that people would like things done now to remedy obvious deficiencies, making the most of what already exists, even though they together fall short of a 1 in 100 year standard of protection (as is inevitable).

Once such remedial measures were taken, then incremental improvements to existing watercourses, particularly widening Hinksey Stream, working up the floodplain, might be a sensible approach, rather than relying on a possible new grand Western Conveyance which might very well never materialise.

Having said all that, information gathered for the Big Scheme can inform decisions in the meantime and if climate change makes things worse it might then be implemented. We suggested that improvements now should not be put off for fear of jeopardising the value for money of the Big Scheme – because of the very real and widespread doubt as to it ever materialising (even were no improvements made in the meantime).

Flood scheme postponed

22 December 2009

At our meeting with the EA on 8 December we were told that the 100-year flood protection scheme for Oxford had been postponed indefinitely: see EA End of Year Update, 2009.

While disappointing it is not a great surprise: we have always been doubtful whether this scheme would ever materialise. That is why for two years we have pushed, successfully, for action NOW.
We will continue to press for early action: there are 8 or 10 further measures across our area which, at modest cost, could significantly reduce flood risk, by helping to restore the floodplain to its proper function, keeping water flowing through rather than accumulating. This should help to keep people dry from all but the most extreme events. The Environment Agency of course shares this aim. We will continue to work closely with the Agency; we believe we need to define a new Medium-term Flood Strategy for Oxford. We will be looking to our politicians, both locally and nationally, to ensure that the necessary works are fully funded, so that the serious threat facing thousands of homes and businesses in Oxford is reduced. We have begun to formulate our response. We will have decided how to proceed by the second or third week of the new year.

Climate change and OFRMS

1 December 2009

Appalling news from Cumbria. A policeman loses his life. Water 8 ft deep in Cockermouth, bridges and homes destroyed. A 1 in 1000 year flood we are told.

Major adverse weather events seem to be getting more common – global warming, whatever its cause, the alleged culprit.

Oxford, in a flood plain and permeated by watercourses, has no flood defences. Recent renovation of existing waterways, though welcome, will not prevent big floods.

The EA has come up with a plan to give Oxford protection against any flood up to a 1 in 100 year flood. It’s called the Oxford Flood Risk Management Strategy.

There will be concerns about some aspects of the plans. But surely the city of Oxford cannot afford to do without protection against what nature seems increasingly likely to throw down on us? The Environment Agency says that 3600 properties – 3100 dwellings and 500 businesses – could be flooded in an a 1 in 100 year flood. The nearest we have had to that in living memory was in 1947. This would dwarf the floods Oxford has seen in more recent years. 10,000 people could be flooded.


3 June 2009

Following the public consultation the National Review Group (NRG) of the Environment Agency, an internal EA group, is considering the major long-term flood scheme for Oxford, the Oxford Flood Risk Management Strategy (OFRMS). A presentation, which we contributed to by helping with video clips, was made today. As soon as we hear the outcome we will let you know. Even if they give the ok, the scheme will still be a long way from being confirmed. There will be further detailed design work, more public consultation and then the biggest hurdle, submission to the government of the day for funding.