Weirs Mill Stream obstructed

We’re supporting John Burbank (manager of the Weirs Orchard residential moorings) in his determined efforts, for safety reasons, to get clearance of obstructions above Weirs Mill Stream in the Thames navigation channel by Long Bridges, particularly the trees in the photograph, above Donnington Bridge. We’ve written more than once to the Environment Agency (EA), most recently a few days ago, because we believe that obstructions of this degree, taken together, increase flood risk. John’s concern is primarily with safe navigation where the problem is obvious.

While the EA could clear this they are very probably not obliged to do so, the responsibility is likely to rest with the riparian owner on each bank – but we hope that if the EA don’t do the work themselves they will use their powers to ensure that these trees are cleared as soon as possible.

Our comments on Oxford Local Plan 2036

Oxford Local Plan 2036
“Oxford City Council is producing a new Local Plan for Oxford. The Local Plan is important because it will shape how Oxford develops.” (from the ‘Preferred Options’ document for the Plan, Oxford City Council). The Council called for comments and we wrote recently as follows:

We wish to submit the following comments in relation to the proposed Oxford Local Plan 2036. Our comments all relate to flood risk.

Overall we are satisfied that the City Council has adopted an appropriate strategic approach to development and flood risk in the city, with new development targeted towards areas least at risk from flooding. We welcome the recognition in the document that flooding is a significant risk for the city and that this needs to be managed.
On the specific sections relating to flooding in the Preferred Option, we would like to see reference to the need to actively maintain watercourses in the city so that they function freely during times of flooding. We’re surprised that the SFRA Decembrer 2016 makes no mention of the need for clearing of trash gates, and the removal of vegetation and fallen trees from streams and ditches. Riparian owners in the city need to be encouraged to maintain water courses.
On Option 38A we would prefer to see adoption of a policy which states that there will be no development of previously undeveloped land in flood zone 3b. As the SFRA notes, this is the position in the current Core Strategy and we see no argument for weakening this.The new plan does not designate greenfield sites in zone 3b for development.
We recognise that water compatible structures and essential infrastructure may, in exceptional circumstance, be permitted in zone 3b under the NPPF. But the Council’s recent attempts to argue that an extension to the Seacourt Park & Ride constituted ‘essential infrastructure’ caused the Oxford Flood Alliance considerable concern. While references to NPPF in the Council’s proposed Local Plan may appear to provide safeguards to the public, these are significantly weakened if the Council intends to ‘interpret’ NPPF along the lines argued for the P&R extension or similar. We believe the plan document needs to provide clarity on this.

 If Preferred Option 38A is adopted as proposed we wish to state for the record that we interpret this to mean that NPPF will be strictly applied. It is clear in Table 2 and 3 in this Guidance Note what ‘Water Compatible’ and ‘Essential Infrastructure’ mean. We are therefore interpreting the Council’s policy to mean what the NPPF guidance says it means. This does not include car parks.

In Option 56A we would like to see a reference to riparian owners responsibility to maintain water courses. Simply treating them as a design feature isn’t sufficient.


OFA Steering Group

Brainstorm meeting: maintaining OFAS

We hosted a meeting today to discuss how we could maintain the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme for both flood relief and the environment over the next century. We had an excellent meeting: in attendance were Rodney Rose (County), Chris Brown (County), Bob Price (City). Penny Burt (EA), Emma Formoy (EA), Giles Strother (BBOWT), Jeremy Biggs (Freshwater Habitats Trust), John Mastroddi (OFA), Nick Hills (OFA), Adrian Porter (OFA), Tim Treacher (SOFAG), Rachel Sanderson (OPT), Judy Webb (ecologist and Ashmolean Rare Plants Group), Peter Rawcliffe (OFA), Simon Collings (OFA), Peter Thompson (Civic Society), Peter Lefort (CAG).

The main question: ‘How might we best organise things to keep the channel working well and make the best of all the benefits over the next 100 years?’ There was excellent discussion with the following conclusions:

There was a general agreement with the idea of coordinating management of OFAS, and that this could bring cost savings and enhanced benefits from the scheme.

It is currently unclear what form the coordinating body would take but it is clear that riparian owners will continue to own their land and will be responsible for managing that land. Their participation in the coordinating structure is therefore key.

More detail about exactly what the required maintenance will be, and how this splits across hard physical assets, the stream and the secondary channel is needed before a further discussion.

In the meantime it was agreed that work to consolidate the ecological vision for OFAS was needed. Conversations are already going on with various stakeholders about this and a draft set of ambitions exists. It was agreed that we should build on these.

Maintenance – site visit to junction of Hinksey Stream and Hinksey Drain

Four of us met this afternoon to inspect this important area. Hinksey Stream and Hinksey Drain are designated Main Rivers: the visit today was to the point, south of South Hinksey, at which the Stream goes under the mainline railway and the Drain diverges from it.

As mentioned on our Home Page we are determined that maintenance of the waterways is properly planned for and given high priority, so everything works as well as possible. We want to see riparian owners fulfilling their legal responsibilities to keep waterways clear. We have for years been agitating that this particular area receive attention as it is in an appallingly poor state.

Today’s meeting took this an important step further on. Present were Peter Collins, Environment Agency, Steve Smith, engineer from Oxford City, and Adrian Porter and Peter Rawcliffe from OFA. There was unanimous agreement that extensive clearance of this area is needed as soon as possible. Steve Smith will be checking on the ownership – once this is certain, Peter Collins will work with whoever it is (seems likely to be Oxford City or Network Rail) and the tenant farmer of the adjacent field, to start clearance asap (subject to bird nesting).

These photos can only give an idea of just how very badly looked after this vital area is. We thank Steve and Peter for taking this on and will be supporting them if any difficulties arise.


Maintenance meeting

Peter Rawcliffe of OFA met with Peter Collins of the Environment Agency today. Discussion was to take forward proposals to get riparian owners to undertake maintenance of local waterways.

Ownership maps will be shared;  a site visit was arranged for 19 March to the Coldharbour area of Hinksey Stream where there is serious, longstanding, obstruction; we hope a representative from Oxford City Council will be able to attend too.

County Council’s Flood Risk Management Strategy

The County’s Flood Risk Management Strategy was formally adopted by the County Council Cabinet this week following the consultation earlier this year.
For more information please follow the link :

The draft Strategy can be found here

The final Strategy and the associated Action Plan will be available online in due course.

The Strategy mentions the role of riparian owners in maintenance – one of our two key concerns currently. See here too about the responsibilities of riparian owners. We have spoken today to County and expressed our keen interest in helping make this happen and how we think that could be done by County, EA and ourselves working together. Getting this under way has been our aim for a long time – and we will get there.

Waterways Plan: riparian landowners’ responsibilities

13 October 2014

We today submitted written comments on a draft synopsis produced by the Flood Defence Group for the Thames Waterways Plan 2015-2020. A point we emphasised was the crucial importance of encouraging large riparian landowners to undertake the maintenance for which they have statutory responsibility, and providing them with practical advice on how to go about this.

OAFP meeting

1 October 2014

OFA attended today’s OAFP meeting:

We asked the EA about progress on our proposals for working with them to ensure that riparian owners maintain the long rural stretches of waterways for which they (the owners) are legally responsible. The EA have prepared an ownership map as we agreed when last we met, so we hope to meet with them again soon.

The problem of flood water (groundwater?) in the back gardens on both sides of Earl Street was discussed. It is hoped  that pumps in two gardens and property-level protection will resolve the problem: OFA and the City Council are working together on it.

OFA’s recent reconnaissance trip by canoe from South Hinksey to Redbridge discovered several serious obstructions, trees and so on. We showed photographs of some of them today and they have been reported to the EA as needing removal.

Our MPs’ views

May 2014

Oxford MPs Nicola Blackwood (Oxford West & Abingdon) and Andrew Smith (Oxford East) have been very active on flooding, both in supporting people and in lobbying for action to reduce it. Flooding does not recognise political boundaries and our MPs have worked together when appropriate, to good effect. They have both supported our own efforts, for which we thank them. Here they give us their current views:

Joint Statement from Nicola Blackwood MP (Oxford West & Abingdon) and Andrew Smith MP (Oxford East)

The human and economic cost of the flooding our local communities must endure every year is totally unacceptable. Our city and surrounding villages urgently need long-term, sustainable flood defences to protect homes and keep Oxfordshire open for business, rain or no rain. The Western Relief Channel will protect families and businesses from flooding and we hope that government, local authorities and business alike will work together to make it happen. At the same time, we must ensure that nearby towns at significant flood risk, like Abingdon, also get the long-term, strategic defences they need, and we will keep the pressure up to ensure that all residents in our constituencies can know that everything possible is being done to mitigate flood risk in the area.

Nicola Blackwood MP for Oxford West & Abingdon writes:

Overflowing Sewers

We need urgent action on our drainage infrastructure, a point which I have raised repeatedly with both Thames Water and the Environment Secretary. Hard-working local groups such as Oxford Flood Alliance and the Ock Valley Flood Group have done a great deal to highlight these problems. I held a half-day meeting with Thames Water in February to discuss the problems that have arisen in each part of my constituency and how this appalling state of affairs can be more effectively prevented in the future.

On flood prevention more widely

I am pleased that local flood defence measures implemented since 2007 have been successful this year in protecting people and property. But other properties have not escaped and countless residents have been affected in other ways such as disruption of road and rail transport, and loss of business. I continue to put pressure on local and central Government, response agencies and utility companies to improve and strengthen local defences further.

Watercourse maintenance

I have raised with the Secretary of State and the Environment Agency the issue of establishing more regular maintenance of key watercourses around Oxford, including the Hinksey and Osney Stream areas. Riparian owners must be encouraged to carry out maintenance along their river banks to keep the river working well. The Environment Agency can play a key role in advising and encouraging landowners to do this.


I have sent a series of written Parliamentary Questions to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, asking that his Department look again at the importance of dredging.

Flooding is a very serious problem for Oxfordshire and what we need now are long-term solutions. I have been raising all of these issues locally and in Parliament and I will continue to do so. I will also remain in close contact with local people, flood action groups, Thames Water and the Environment Agency, vigorously representing the concerns of my constituents.

Andrew Smith MP for Oxford East writes:

Thanks. Throughout the flooding crises, I have kept in touch with residents and taken up concerns with the relevant agencies as well as raising questions in Parliament. I have greatly valued the advice and dedicated work of the South Oxford Flood Action Group and the Oxford Flood Alliance.

Sewerage problems

The worst impact of both episodes of flooding this year has been on residents unable to use toilets because of flood water – surface flooding and groundwater – inundating the sewerage system.  I visited residents in both of the areas affected in my constituency:  the Weirs Lane area and Western Road area.  I took this up with Thames Water at the time and subsequently, and have held a residents meeting. Thames Water have undertaken to clear up any sewerage residue in gardens, and to complete a general clean up of silt from affected sewers, coordinated with the councils responsible for a prior clean-up of surface water drains. The latter has to be done first, as matter from the council clean up often ends up in the sewers!  Thames Water have confirmed to me that they will complete a catchment area study of sewers in Oxford. I will continue to press for improvements.

The severity of problems in the Weirs Lane area was such that the City Council put Portacabin toilets and washing facilities in affected streets, and moved some vulnerable residents into alternative accommodation.

Other flood prevention measures

Each time there are floods lessons are learnt.  Properties have been saved from flooding thanks to the barrier and pumping operation in Vicarage Road and Lake Street, applying lessons of the 2007 floods.  It was noticeable the impact this year which the fire service pumping operation had in clearing water from Abingdon Road.  It raises the question of whether a bund alongside the allotments coupled with more pumping might reduce the flooding risk in the Weirs Lane area, and the City Council have assured me this will be investigated with the Environment Agency.


I have raised with government and the insurance industry the availability and affordability of household insurance for properties affected by flooding risk.  I have also helped individual constituents having difficulty with getting cover. I support the need of businesses also to have access to affordable insurance.

Maintenance of rural stretches: riparian responsibilities

IMG_4149hinksey stream at s hinksey

Hinksey Stream at South Hinksey, 1 Nov 2012

7 June 2013

Peter Rawcliffe of OFA met with a representative of the EA today, to discuss the maintenance of the long rural stretches of waterway in our area. Our joint aim is to bring the riparian owners within Oxford together to develop a practical approach to their doing the maintenance work that is needed. The EA has the skills, experience and authority to advise: OFA will add the community voice, emphasising the importance of proper maintenance and of riparian owners fulfilling their responsibilities. We hope to be able to report progress by our Annual Public Meeting in November.