CONCERNS over maintenance funding for Oxford’s proposed £120m flood relief channel were raised yesterday by the president of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Professor David Balmforth spoke on a site visit to Seacourt Stream off Botley Road where the channel would depart from the Thames, carrying water away from the city.

While he said he was “very encouraged” that the Environment Agency had identified sources for £95m of the construction cost, he warned that finding the annual maintenance funding would be a “challenge”.

He said: “At the moment the Environment Agency still only secures maintenance investment on an annual basis.

“That doesn’t mean there isn’t going to be maintenance but there is no commitment to what that might look like.“We would like to see similar commitment to maintenance expenditure as to capital.”

The proposed scheme would combine a five-metre wide channel to carry overflow water from the Thames and a much wider 50m area of lower ground either side of it which will take flood waters.

That 50m-wide area will be planted with water-loving marsh plants such as reeds, and Dr Balmforth warned that keeping those plants in check so they did not impede water absorption by the soil would be one challenge.

He said: “You’ll have to cut back the vegetation and remove debris.

“It’s not a huge amount but it is something that has to take place.”

He warned: “Certainly historically some flooding can be attributed to lack of maintenance of water courses.”

Indeed, Environment Agency (EA) officer Peter Collins pointed out at the meeting that his organisation had reduced the number of homes at a one-in-100-years flood risk in Oxford from 4,500 to 1,800 through watercourse maintenance and weir management in recent years.

Responding to Dr Balmforth’s concerns, he said at least part of the maintenance would be carried out by cows grazing on the flood channel land.

He said the EA would ask landowners and farmers along the route of the channel, from Botley Road to Kennington and Sandford, to help with maintenance.

He said: “Maintenance is a massive part of the scheme.

“We are working with all land owners to make sure they are doing what they should be doing anyway. We will have responsibility for ensuring the scheme is maintained, partly by ourselves using Government funding and partly through working with others.”

He said the EA would not go to the Treasury for final approval on the scheme without accounting for maintenance costs.

The EA is working with Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership to try to find the outstanding £25m capital funding for the project, including talking to Oxford businesses hit by previous floods.

Ground work is due to start on the scheme in 2018 and take three years.