A BATTLE has begun over the land needed for the £120m Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme.

It follows the revelation a charitable trust which stands to lose a third of its land – and income – has vowed to fight the plans to the end.

The Ferry Hinksey Charitable Trust received a letter before Christmas saying the Environment Agency hoped to use part of its land for part of the channel.

If the trust is not willing to sell, the EA said it will get a government Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) to buy a third of the 10 acres in North Hinksey at market value.

That would mean the trust, which rents the field out to raise money for charities including Oxfam, could lose a third of its income.

Chairman Christopher Sugden said he was shocked by the EA's insistence on buying his and others' land when, he felt, there were alternatives to its flood scheme.

He said: "The EA plan to take about a third of our field, widen the channel of the Seacourt Stream which runs through it and use that as a channel into which flood water can be driven.

"I've pointed out to them that the stream hasn't been dredged into 20 years and if they did that then some of the problem would be solved straight away."

Dr Sugden also said the EA's plans had already cost the trust its income because the last tenant who rented the field to pasture his horses had decided the future was too uncertain and ended the arrangement.

That has left the trust, which also raises money for the Church of St Cross in Oxford, Lagan College secondary school in Belfast and the Lee Abbey Christian retreat in Devon, with no income.

He added: "It's planning blight. They haven't got all the money for the scheme or planning permission yet they've sent these letter out about CPO."

Dr Sugden said that if the EA tried to use a CPO he would lodge an appeal and argue that it had not fully investigated the options for flood alleviation.

Another landowner, Oxford Preservation Trust, also still has serious concerns about the scheme.

On its webpage about its North Hinksey fields, just a stone's throw from Dr Sugden's land, the trust says: "If [the flood scheme] goes ahead they will no longer be suitable for horse grazing and will be sub-divided with the channel and wide bridges introduced.

"We are concerned about the change in the ‘rural’ character and that the altered hydrology will harm the creeping marshwort."

It is understood that the preservation trust and Corpus Christi College – another of the landowners – could both be issued with CPOs.

Dr Sugden added: "It is something the landowners are concerned about: other routes are possible and it doesn't need to be this way at all.

"They need to thoroughly investigate all the options."

His warning to the EA comes after an almost identical warning from the Co-op supermarket.

The retail giant owns the field just north of Botley Road where the EA has always intended to start its flood channel, but in a letter to Oxford City Council the Co-op said it wanted to turn that field into a carpark.

The Co-op concluded with a warning to the council and the EA indicating that if the agency tried to use a CPO: "...the Co-op doubts that the Environment Agency could use compulsory purchase powers to secure the land."

In response to the Ferry Hinksey Charitable Trust's concerns, flood scheme spokeswoman Helen Cukier said: "We are in ongoing negotiations with landowners and hope to reach an agreement with them, as we do not want to purchase landowners land throughout the scheme area unless we absolutely have to.

"We will have to go through the process of submitting a CPO in the spring, but we will only use this if we cannot reach mutual landowner agreements.

"We need to do this to ensure we keep the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme on track. It is essential for us to have access to the land once the scheme is in place to enable us to maintain and manage the scheme for years to come."

The three-mile channel would run from the field next to Seacourt Park and Ride, through South Hinksey to join the Thames near Kennington, and would divert flood waters away from the city centre.

In September the EA said it still needed to find £4.35m funding, and was working with local businesses to secure donations. It has not given a public update on that search since.