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Summit called to assemble task force to fight flooding
COUNTY council leaders have pledged to work closely with other agencies to combat the next major flood in Oxfordshire.
They say they have a duty to plan for the worst after four major floods in the past decade – in 2003, 2007, 2012/2013 and this month.
Now they will host a flood summit in a bid to ensure the area gets the cash it needs to bolster flood defences.
The summit will feature agencies including councils, the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership, the Oxford Flood Alliance, and national bodies, including the Environment Agency.
Oxford faced major flooding problems last week, with the closure of the Botley and Abingdon roads. City council leader Bob Price estimated that businesses in the city have lost tens of millions of pounds from the fall in trade.
Now Rodney Rose, county cabinet member with responsibility for flood risk management, said: “We have now had significant floods two years running and four times in the last decade, so we may have to face up to flooding as the new norm in Oxfordshire.”
The flood summit on Friday, March 21, will consider major infrastructure improvements that could reduce the risk as well as local flood defence schemes.
Mr Rose, deputy leader of the council, said: “I want to make sure that all the relevant organisations come together as soon as possible to learn lessons from these floods.
“We need to agree how we can work together to reduce the risk to homes, businesses and the transport links that are vital to our local economy.
“From what I have seen, all the agencies involved have worked extremely well together as an emergency response – probably better than ever.
“The aim of the summit is to bring together every organisation with a role in reducing the risk of flooding, and agree a way forward.
“We all know that public money for flood defences is limited, so it is very important that we put on a united front in Oxfordshire to get a share of whatever national investment is available, and to use it wisely to reduce risk of flooding.”
Mr Rose said he welcomed the Prime Minister’s recent acknowledgement that flood defences have to be improved.
Other officials have backed the county council plan.
Environment Agency spokesman Cheryl Walmsley said: “We support the suggestion of an Oxfordshire flooding summit, “A forum looking specifically at flooding, and the lessons we can learn from the recent events in Oxfordshire, will be really useful.”
Oxford Flood Alliance spokesman Peter Rawcliffe, from South Hinksey, welcomed the summit – but said the only solution to flooding in Oxford was a £160m flood relief channel from north of Botley Road to Sandford-on-Thames.
Mr Rawcliffe said: “The diversionary channel will be landscaped and incorporate bits of the Hinksey Stream.
“It’s the only option that will solve the problem of flooding in Oxford. Work could be done in stages, starting with a £2m-£3m scheme at Sandford.”
Mr Rawcliffe said the Environment Agency-run Thames Regional Flood and Coastal Committee is due to discuss funding for the strategy on March 3.
Oxford East MP Andrew Smith said: “I think the summit is a great idea.”
City councillor for Jericho and Osney, Colin Cook, also backed the plan and said: “The city council will have its own post-mortem on the flooding and feed in our findings to the flood summit.”
County council spokesman Paul Smith said it was not yet known if the summit would be open to the public and added that a final decision on a flood relief channel for Oxford would not be made at the March 3 coastal committee.
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