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.

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.”

 

 

Severe flooding in Yorkshire

Exceptional rainfall has caused widespread and serious flooding in the north of England. It seems pretty clear (from this, and many other events worldwide) that climate change is happening here and now https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-50343977

Meanwhile in New South Wales a very different emergency, which again seems almost certain to be climate change related https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-australia-50341207

The list goes on.

Flood defences are sorely needed for Oxford’s river flooding, and more than ever now that we’re faced with more frequent extreme weather events. The Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme is being developed to provide that defence.

 

 

Trees

The Environment Agency has looked again at the question of trees in the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme (OFAS) – this is from their recent newsletter:

‘We have listened to local concerns about the impact the scheme will have on trees and recently conducted some additional tree surveys. Although trees will unfortunately have to be felled during the construction stage, we can confirm that our tree-planting proposals will ensure there will be more woodland within the scheme area after completion, than there currently is at present. 

By surveying individual trees by eye, we estimate that 2,000 trees will need to be felled. To mitigate for this we will be planting around 4,325 trees. In addition, 15,000 smaller trees, such as hawthorn, hazel and elder, will also be planted, along with many more native shrubs such as dogwood, goat willow, dog rose and wild privet. Throughout the design process, our contractors, engineers and ecologists have worked together to minimise tree loss wherever possible. Once a contractor has been appointed we will work with them to further minimise losses of trees wherever possible. 

Our aim is for the scheme to bring a true green legacy to the area. We are currently exploring options for the long term maintenance of the scheme to ensure it is not only maintained as a flood scheme, but continues to provide lasting environmental improvements well into the future.’

Upcoming talk on OFAS and wildlife

There is to be a talk, open to all, on ‘The Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme: Maximising the benefits for people and freshwater wildlife’ with Jeremy Biggs of Freshwater Habitats Trust and Penny Burt from the Environment Agency on Monday 26 November 2018 at 6.30 pm in South Hinksey Village Hall.

Gravel mining – Be careful what you wish for

Gravel mining in Oxfordshire

The County Council is responsible for minerals and waste planning in Oxfordshire, including the preparation of a local plan setting out planning policies for mineral working and supply and for waste management. The Council is preparing a new Oxfordshire Minerals and Waste Local Plan, which will comprise: Part 1 – Core Strategy; and Part 2 – Site Allocations.

Sand and gravel is the most common mineral resource in Oxfordshire.

Part 1, the Core Strategy was approved and adopted in September 2017. It sets out the vision, objectives, spatial planning strategy and policies for meeting development requirements for the supply of minerals and the management of waste in Oxfordshire over the period to 2031. Para 4.21 reads:

“4.21 Policy M2: Provision for working aggregate minerals

Provision will be made through policies M3 and M4 to enable the supply of:

  • sharp sand and gravel – 1.015 mtpa giving a total provision requirement of 18.270 million tonnes
  • soft sand – 0.189 mtpa giving a total provision requirement of 3.402 million tonnes
  • crushed rock – 0.584 mtpa giving a total provision requirement of 10.512 million tonnes

from land-won sources within Oxfordshire for the period 2014 – 2031 inclusive.

Permission will be granted for aggregate mineral working under policy M5 to enable separate landbanks of reserves with planning permission to be maintained for the extraction of minerals of:

  • at least 7 years for sharp sand and gravel;
  • at least 7 years for soft sand;
  • at least 10 years for crushed rock;

in accordance with the annual requirement rates in the most recent Local Aggregate Assessment, taking into account the need to maintain sufficient productive capacity to enable these rates to be realised.”

Part 2 is the Site Allocations, currently being prepared. A consultation began in August 2018 (Oxfordshire minerals and waste local plan, part 2 – site allocations, issues and options consultation); comments had to be in by 3 October 2018.

One of the sites that is nominated and so under consideration is Site number SG-37: Land at Grandpont and South Hinksey. This is a 20hA site, with an estimated yield of 1.5 million tonnes.

A map of the area can be seen on p. 63 of this document MWLPSitesIssuesOptionsConsultation

We commented (as did the Environment Agency). Our own objection read:

“Site number SG-37: Land at Grandpont and South Hinksey.

This area is the subject of a major planning application currently being considered by Oxfordshire County Council for the construction of the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme. For this reason we ask that this site should not be taken forward.”

OFA comment

Many of the easiest to mine areas in the County have been mined, increasing pressure on those that remain. While there are logistical difficulties to mining at Site SG-37, Land at Grandpont and South Hinksey, the demand for gravel seems likely to continue unabated with road and rail schemes and new housing very much on the agenda both nationally and in Oxfordshire. In our opinion it is far from impossible that in future this Site might be chosen for mining.

The Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme (the Scheme) is not designed or intended in any way to prevent gravel mining in the future.

However, having said that, it seems to us that having the Scheme in place would make gravel mining at this site much, much less likely. We say this because mining for gravel once the flood alleviation scheme is built would compromise its design and its proper functioning. (The very fact that the Scheme is under consideration is probably already affording protection in the present consultation round.)

Disclaimer: this present brief note is intended to explain the issues as we understand them. There is a great deal more information available in the relevant County documents and on their website, e.g.

https://www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/residents/environment-and-planning/planning/planning-policy/minerals-and-waste-policy/new-minerals-and-waste-plan  

https://www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/residents/environment-and-planning/planning/planning-policy/minerals-and-waste-policy/core-strategy#adoption

which anyone particularly interested should read for themselves.

Oxford can – and must – be prepared

The BBC reports further today on the serious Welsh floods

“Communities will want new flood defences after many Welsh rivers burst their banks during Storm Callum, Wales’ environment agency has warned.

Parts of Wales saw the worst flooding for 30 years ….

A 21-year-old man was killed after a landslip and many homes and businesses were flooded as Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and south Powys bore the brunt of the storm on Friday and over the weekend.”

We’ve been proactive in Oxford so we’re much further ahead – the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme is currently being considered for planning approval. Whether the Welsh floods are in part related to climate change would require event attribution analysis to give an estimate of the probability that that is the case. But certainly it’s the sort of event that one would expect with climate change. It’s vital that Oxford’s as ready as it can be.

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/