EFFECTIVE flood defences for Oxford are not a luxury. They are a basic essential.
The effects of flooding are far wider than on individuals and their homes, serious though as those are.
As I write, businesses are hit by flooding of their premises, and by the breakdown in transport. Trains are slow or cancelled.
The Botley and Abingdon roads are closed, others are congested, journeys long. People can’t get to work.
Some stay at home to protect their property. Schools may close. Sewers overflow, contaminating the flood water.
Sadly, two people have died in the Oxford area in the present floods.
A group of us formed the Oxford Flood Alliance in 2007, our primary aim being to reduce the risk of flooding in the Oxford area.
This, in partnership with the Environment Agency, local councils, Thames Water and Network Rail, we have helped to do.
Houses that have flooded in the past are not flooding now (at least as I write) – for example on Osney Island and in streets off the Botley Road.
Even in areas now flooded, fewer properties will be affected, the flood will not be so deep and won’t last quite as long, though that is scant comfort to those affected.
The wider effects on the economy are extremely serious.
Oxford and Oxfordshire are rightly proud of the tradition of learning, its translation into high tech and medical advances and the development of associated industries.
This is being put at risk by flooding: reputation is easily tarnished.
Having taken the first steps to reduce flood risk we now need to do much more.
The flood ostrich approach, burying one’s head in the water, won’t help.
Flooding will come again and again, probably more often, costing huge amounts every time, damaging reputation and prospects.
Money spent on flood defences is well spent, soon saving much more by reducing the number and severity of future events.
Remedies are already identified. The Environment Agency’s Oxford Flood Risk Management Strategy (OFRMS) in its entirety would protect Oxford to a high standard (one flood every 75 years).
That is what we need and we’d like to see the Government fund it.
If the ideal of the whole project being funded now proved unachievable, a staged approach might provide an effective and affordable way forward, allowing an early start.
Such an approach would logically begin at the lowest relevant point, Sandford-on-Thames.
Construction of a new flood channel there, which would be a component of the OFRMS project, could give significant benefit.
Staged implementation of the strategy would continue moving upstream, taking into account changes in weather patterns, and progressively reducing risk.
Adequate flood defences are so absolutely fundamental to a thriving 21st century society and economy that it’s extraordinary that it’s not been sorted out years ago.
The Dutch understand that – of course – but so must we.
Oxford this week shows just how much other things depend on getting it right. That Oxford does not have it right travels fast and far: we recently heard from an architecture student in Japan who is writing a dissertation on Oxford flooding.
We look to our politicians, national and local, and the responsible agencies, to work together, to grasp this serious problem and to drive forward the necessary projects urgently. That way lies a drier and more prosperous future.
Failure means continuing avoidable damage to people, property, business, transport and reputation, soon costing vastly more than implementing the already identified solutions.