OXFORDSHIRE’S political leaders are preparing to seize a once-in-a-generation chance to tackle some of the county’s flooding problems.
Tomorrow, Oxfordshire County Council will hold a flood summit with representatives from the Government, the Environment Agency, Thames Water and councils across the county.
It is hoped this summit will lead to the creation of the so-called Western Conveyance flood relief channel which would start in Botley and carry water downstream to Sandford-on-Thames. The county council plans to use the summit to get as much support for the scheme as possible and get an idea of what the bodies taking part could contribute.
Rodney Rose, the deputy leader of the county council, said this summit represents the best chance to get the £123m scheme approved – otherwise it risks two decades of inaction.
He said: “I need some ammunition to make sure that the Western Conveyance stays in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ six-year plan for flood alleviation projects and that its value is raised even higher in political circles.
“I want to say that Oxfordshire will join in funding some of this but request that national Government does some more. If we don’t do this now we probably won’t see it for 20 years.
“We want to make sure that economic impact is accounted for because the number of houses this would protect is not that great.
“My feeling is that it is not now or never.”
During the flooding this winter both Botley Road and Abingdon Road were closed and the city’s political leaders have estimated that this – combined with the impact on the railway line – caused millions of pounds of damage to Oxford’s economy.
Mr Rose said the flood relief channel, which would be roughly the width of the River Thames and carry floodwater around Oxford rather than through it, would be accompanied by prevention measures in Abingdon to make sure it wouldn’t increase the risk of flooding in the town downstream Matthew Barber, the leader of Vale of White Horse District Council, said: “I have had some useful conversations with the EA leading up to this summit and I am sure these will go on for some time.”
Ann Ducker, leader of South Oxfordshire District Council, said: “I am not against the Western Conveyance in principle but my concern is that they don’t do something which pushes the water down into our area.”
Botley Road during the floods earlier this year
Bob Price, the leader of Oxford City Council, said: “The summit should be the first step towards the construction of the Western Conveyance but will only succeed in achieving this if the partners and stakeholders are willing to make clear commitments towards funding. Critically, it needs political support from the top to follow up their encouraging words in recent weeks. If the project fails to get through to funding approval this year, the next chance won’t come for a very long time and in that period we could see Oxfordshire homes and jobs hit by increasingly frequent flooding.”
With the flood relief scheme for Abingdon included the cost would rise to £125m.
Peter Rawcliffe, chairman of Oxford Flood Alliance, said: “Oxford has suffered increasingly frequent flooding in recent years, a problem which is only likely to increase in future. Action needs to be taken to rid Oxford of this threat once and for all.”
Following tomorrow’s summit, the EA said the deadline for funding bids to process for Defra is Monday.
All of these projects will then be considered and subject to final approval for submission to its national team in May.
The decisions on final allocations will not be made until December.
There is a further deadline at the end of April for the council to apply for flood funding from the Local Levy pot.
Environment Agency spokes-man Joe Giacomelli said: “It would be inappropriate for us to comment in advance on any agenda items until they have been fully discussed by those in attendance.”
The summit will be held tomorrow at County Hall in Oxford but it is not open to the public.
Representatives from the EA, Defra, the district councils and Thames Water will be present.
It will be taking place from 10am.
SCHEMES WHICH THE EA SAYS WILL BE PUT FORWARD THIS MONTH
- The Western Conveyance
- Abingdon Ock Flood Alleviation Scheme
- St Helen’s Wharf, Abingdon, flood scheme
- River Sturt, Abingdon, culvert replacement
Residents’ concern over new flooding insurance plan
HOMEOWNERS across Oxfordshire hit by flooding could benefit from a new scheme agreed by the Government and insurance companies.
Under the new Flood Re scheme, payouts for flood damage will come from a central pool of money and annual flood insurance premiums will be capped.
The Association of British Insurers has agreed to cap the premiums of households covered by the scheme, which would be funded by a £10.50 levy on all household customers and come into effect from the summer of 2015.
But yesterday concerns were raised that those who did not spend money to flood-proof their homes, but repeatedly claimed, could be excluded. Association of British Insurers spokesman Malcolm Tarling yesterday confirmed that such a condition was being considered.
Mr Tarling said: “It is an option that is on the table. Everything is being looked at.”
A Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs spokeswoman denied that it would be a factor after initially refusing to comment.