COUNCILS, utility companies and government bodies have all agreed to work together to fund the £125m solution to Oxford’s flood problems.
After a three-hour long flood summit in Oxford yesterday, they agreed to set up a “sponsorship group” which will be made up of representatives of as many bodies as possible and lobby for funding for the Western Conveyance.
Bodies such as Thames Water, Network Rail, First Great Western and the Highways Agency all expressed their support and commitment to continue working with Oxfordshire’s councils to tackle the issue.
Oxfordshire County Council has said it will now try to unite as many of these organisations as possible into the group.
County council leader Ian Hudspeth said: “It went very well in terms of getting everyone together and making sure they all fully understand the issues around the Western Conveyance.
“I think the sponsorship group is very important because it is an awful lot of money that we need and we have got to make sure everyone is involved.
“The group will drive the funding push and make sure everyone is on board. It also means it won’t just be one party coming forward with this idea, it will be several.”
The Western Conveyance would be a four-mile long channel running from Seacourt Stream in Botley to Sandford Lock south of Oxford.
During flooding the channel would carry flood water round to the west of Oxford.
It would be accompanied by flood defence schemes in Abingdon to make sure that it doesn’t have a knock-on effect further downstream on the Thames.
Barry Russell, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire area operations manager for the Environment Agency, said: “I thought the summit went fantastically well and was a great opportunity to get everyone together.
“The project is on Defra’s six-year programme and I think the ongoing challenge is to bring the money into the equation.
“The sponsorship group is absolutely key and it will be the energy behind this to corral others to bring what they can to the table, secure their commitment and enable us to move forward.”
The Western Conveyance – also known as the Oxford Relief River – went out for consultation three years ago but has never progressed due to lack of funding.
Now £38m has been earmarked for the scheme from the Environment Agency and another £12m would come from the Thames Regional Flood and Coastal Committee which is made up of flood authorities across the Thames region.
This leaves a shortfall of £75m (including the Abingdon schemes which will come under the Western Conveyance) which has to be found before the scheme can go ahead.
It would be as wide as the River Thames and it is believed that it would prevent both Abingdon Road and Botley Road from closing due to flooding, as happened this winter.
£125m scheme to protect the city.
THE Western Conveyance channel, would start at the Seacourt Stream in Botley and run to the west of the city diverting water away from Oxford to rejoin the Thames four miles downstream at Sandford-on-Thames.
Officials have said it would be roughly the width of the River Thames.
Government minister Eric Pickles and county council leader Ian Hudspeth watch pumping operations last month to keep homes in Bullstake Close, off Botley Road, from flooding
Councillors concerned about the impact on Abingdon were also assured yesterday that the scheme will be accompanied by measures to make sure it won’t increase the risk of flooding in the town.
At the moment it is estimated it will cost a total of £125m – £123m for the channel itself and £2m for associated work at Abingdon – but a £75m funding shortfall still remains to be plugged.
'Plans could transform boating facilities'.
ABINGDON-based marine engineering firm Green Boat Services has said the Western Conveyance could transform boating facilities in Oxford.
Marine engineer Jon Ody has said the scheme would be of economic and social benefit to the whole of Oxfordshire.
He claimed it could be used for a whole host of water sports, as well as making up for under-provision of boating facilities in Oxford.
Jon Ody and Sam Dent on the Thames at Abingdon
Mr Ody said: “Under most normal circumstances the Western Conveyance could host a multitude of leisure activities including punting, canoeing, rowing and angling, and in times of high flows could be transformed for use as a safe and secure white-water rapids course on a par with the National Watersports Centre near Nottingham.
“Oxford is a hub for boaters, forming an essential north-south link in the national waterways network, and in the foreseeable future, visitors will escalate, as the Thames & Severn and Wiltshire & Berkshire canals, both currently under restoration, are reopened. Usage of the Thames in Oxford is set to increase, and the infrastructure required for such usage must be correspondingly increased.”
Sam Dent, business manager of Green Boat Services, added: “The flood alleviation programme is intended to protect the area but we should look at the longer term economic benefits it could have for the area as well.”