There are 4,500 properties in Oxford at a 1% or higher annual risk of flooding. This figure could rise to nearly 6,000 by the year 2080 with the predicted effects of climate change. Major roads, railway lines, schools and businesses could also be affected by flooding. The Environment Agency carries out regular maintenance activities and operates its assets to reduce the flood risk as much as possible, reducing this to 1,800 properties at risk.
In 2009 the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme project team carried out the Oxford Flood Risk Management Strategy, a detailed study of the flood risk from rivers in Oxford. The strategy described how flood risk can be managed in Oxford over the next 100 years. Since the January 2014 floods, the project team has been working with partners including Oxfordshire County Council, Oxford City Council, Vale of White Horse District Council, Thames Water and the Oxford Flood Alliance, to develop a scheme in line with this strategy.
The project team has carried out investigations into the flood risk and possible options to alleviate this risk. Their investigations show that capacity can be increased in Oxford’s western flood plain by building a new flood relief channel.
How the flood relief channel would work
During heavy rainfall and high flows on the river, the new channel would provide additional capacity and help manage the movement of water through Oxford. It would reduce the risk of flood water entering homes, businesses and disrupting transport links. Although a channel would reduce flood risk, it cannot remove it entirely. The flood plain would still play an important role in managing flood risk in Oxford.
The Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme project team works to reduce flood risk, not to transfer it from one place to another. They will carry out modelling and will design the scheme to ensure that flood risk to downstream communities does not increase.
The project team is currently developing different options for the flood relief channel, including different routes and sizes. To inform this work, they carried out ground investigations in September 2015, which involved digging boreholes and trial pits across the flood plain to help better understand the geology, soil and groundwater levels. They will be beginning archaeological investigations alongside Oxford Archaeology and Historic England, in the same area early in 2016.
Once the final option has been decided, there are various approvals that must be sought (including planning permission) before construction can begin. The scheme has funding from central government, the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership, Thames Regional Flood and Coastal Committee, and local councils, but needs further contributions to enable construction. This is the standard way in which flood schemes are funded today.
Provided the scheme is fully approved and funded, the earliest work can be expected to start is spring 2018. Construction is expected to take 2 to 3 years.
How you can get involved
The project team is holding a series of public events to present the options and provide an opportunity for the public to give their views. These will be open from 2:30pm to 7pm at the following locations:
- Tuesday 19 January, Oxford Town Hall, OX1 1BX
- Wednesday 20 January, Abbey House, Abingdon, OX14 3JE
- Friday 22 January, South Oxford Community Centre, OX1 4RP
- Wednesday 27 January, Kennington Village Centre, OX1 5PG
- Thursday 28 January, West Oxford Community Centre, OX2 0BT
From an early stage, the project team has been working with partners and local environmental groups to ensure that the scheme will bring environmental, social and cultural benefits as well as reducing flood risk. Along with representatives of our partners, they have been meeting with landowners, community groups, local flood groups and councillors to discuss the scheme. They also held public events across the Oxford area in 2015, with nearly 300 people attending to find out more about the scheme and tell us their thoughts.
They gained some useful local knowledge from the events. You told them you are interested in improving the environment and recreational use of the flood plain, and protecting the delicate plant species and archaeology which gives Oxford its unique identity. They are using this information to assess the options available for the channel.
For further information, or to sign up to the scheme’s newsletter, please firstname.lastname@example.org.