DAVID CAMERON has been urged by a united political front to back a £160m channel to save Oxford from future flooding.
Bob Price, the leader of Oxford City Council, has written to Witney MP Mr Cameron along with Andrew Smith, MP for Oxford East, and Nicola Blackwood, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon.
They have urged Prime Minister Mr Cameron to back the £160m Western Conveyance project – both financially and morally – which they say will benefit the entire county.
In the letter they say: “Oxford has suffered regular disruption in recent years due to flooding, and serious flood events are becoming increasingly frequent.
“On this occasion, and in numerous previous events, the main roads into the city from the south and west have been closed for extended periods.
“As well as closing off two major routes into the city, many businesses along these routes have been forced to cease operations. Two of the park and ride operations, which are the backbone of the transport system for the city, have been closed.
“In addition to the impact on the roads, the main railway line through Oxford which links thecity with London, Birmingham and beyond, and is a crucial crossing point for UK for the cross country service, has been closed.
“We seek your support in progressing this flood alleviation scheme for Oxford and the Oxford Western Conveyance.
The Western Conveyance scheme, which would be as wide as the River Thames, went out to consultation three years ago but it has never progressed due to a lack of funding.
It would run from Seacourt Stream north of Botley Road to the River Thames at Sandford Lock, diverting water away from Oxford to stop it spreading across the city.
The trio have asked Mr Cameron to give his support to the scheme and help them convince the Government that funding should be made available for it.
Mr Price said: “It will protect the economic life of important parts of the county and we are very keen to stress the importance of Oxfordshire to the UK’s economy.
“We are looking for him to do what he can in moral support as a local MP but what he can do as Prime Minister is set the context in which funding decisions are made by the Treasury.”
Ms Blackwood added: “I shall absolutely be continuing to press the Government, as well as all other possible sources of funding, for financial support for improving local flood defences through the Western Conveyance.”
Mr Smith said: “We would like support from him both as an Oxfordshire MP and as Prime Minister.
“As a county MP he will be aware of the scale of the flood damage in Oxfordshire, both its impact on the economy and the misery it has caused local residents.
“We would hope that as the Government reviews the national flood defence programme the Western Conveyance gets some priority.”
Peter Rawcliffe, of Oxford Flood Alliance, welcomed the support the project was being given.
He said: “The Western Conveyance is the only scheme on the table and the only way in which the present situation can be improved.
“I think the fact that we have now had floods in fairly quick succession since 2009 has served to emphasise just how vital improved flood defences are.
“We cannot go on like this in what is meant to be a modern and vibrant city.”
The Environment Agency is carrying out modelling on the Western Conveyance scheme to find out whether parts of it should go ahead.
It is hoped that a section of the channel at Sandford Lock which would cost around £2.5m would have the biggest effect and could go ahead first.
Ian Tomes, flood and coastal risk manager at the Environment Agency, said: “We have already delivered short term measures from the Oxford Flood Risk Management Strategy and have worked with our partners to implement other defences.
“We welcome growing support for the Western Conveyance Channel, which will require significant financial contributions from the public and private sectors.
“There are still significant obstacles to overcome to turn this project into reality.
“We continue to work with our partners and the community to reduce flood risk.”
County councillor Rodney Rose, the deputy leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said some money has already been set aside and only £40m would be needed over a certain period of time.
But he said the scheme would have to compete with other projects that protect more homes.
Botley Road during the floods earlier this month
He said: “The main aim for the flood summit I have organised in March is to get this started.
“Protection of houses is what scores points and we have got to make this scheme more important than anything else to get it done.
“It was always a long-term aspiration and now that Botley Road and Abingdon Road are being closed it has focused business minds on it.”
Mr Cameron did not respond to our request for a comment.
The Western Conveyance would work in a similar way to the Jubilee River in Berkshire.
Built in the late 1990s, the Jubilee River is 11km long and takes overflow from the River Thames to prevent flooding in Maidenhead, Windsor and Eton.
Its construction was commissioned and designed by the Environment Agency at a cost of £110m and when built it was the largest man-made river project ever undertaken in Britain – though it has been made to look like a natural waterway.
The name of the river was chosen by a poll of the local population, with the final choice of “Jubilee” the strong preference as it was completed in Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee year.