CONSTRUCTION work on a £150m flood alleviation scheme for Oxford will be delayed by a public inquiry, the Environment Agency has announced.

The ‘channel’ will be about 5km long and run through the existing floodplain from just north of Botley Road to south of the A423 southern bypass near Kennington, where it re-joins the River Thames.

Construction work was originally due to start this year, taking three to four years to complete.

But a public enquiry will hold up the schedule after the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs intervened.

Oxford Mail:

An updated statement on the EA’’s Oxford flood scheme policy paper, in a section entitled ‘compulsory purchase order’, said: “We have had confirmation from Defra that they intend to hold a public inquiry.

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“A date is being confirmed for this. Due to the timeframes needed for this part of the process, the earliest construction of the scheme will start is in 2020.”

The EA said Compulsory Purchase Order letters have been sent out to ‘landowners and anyone else who may have an interest in land that is impacted by the scheme on a permanent or temporary basis’.

Dr Peter Rawcliffe, of the Oxford Flood Alliance, said: “A public inquiry will inevitably cause a delay, which is a shame but the process must completed properly and we will have to see what happens.

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“It was thought from the beginning that there would be objections, and this public inquiry will primarily be about CPOs.”

Oxford Mail:

The county council said in December that there had been 55 objections to the scheme but did not say how many related to CPOs.

The EA revealed in December that the cost of its OFAS scheme – one of the biggest flood projects in the country – had soared from £120m to £150m.

And the Hinksey and Osney Environment Group – which opposes the scheme – has put forward an alternative which it claims would be much cheaper, costing about £100m.

The group’s spokesman Chris Sugden said earlier: “Is the OFAS the best and only way to deal with the floods? We say it is not.”

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Campaigners are proposing an alternative method devised by engineer Jonathan Madden, which involves running a pair of parallel two-metre underground pipes, from a pumping station at Seacourt, under Botley Road and then along the Hinksey Plain to the Old Abingdon Road.

Oxford Mail:

The group is suggesting this alternative scheme to Environment Secretary Michael Gove in order to avoid the disruption it believes the flood alleviation scheme will create.

The planning application for the flood ‘channel’ was submitted to Oxfordshire County Council last year and public consultation has now been concluded.

It is hoped that a final planning decision will be reached in the summer.

The Hinksey and Osney Environment Group said the current EA proposals would cause ‘irreparable damage to the local area’ including congestion on Botley Road and on the A34, with 100,000 vehicle movements expected over a three-year period.

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Colin Hannaford, who lives in Marlborough Court, West Oxford, is also concerned about the disruption the EA’s flood alleviation scheme will cause.

He said transport of material in and out of the proposed scheme through the Botley and Abingdon Road junctions was expected to last for three years.

He added: “I pointed out (in an objection) that this would certainly bring Oxford to a standstill for most of these three years, and that the disruption of Oxford residents, businesses and visitors, investment confidence and future growth opportunities, would be economically catastrophic.”

Mr Hannaford has also urged the EA to consider the proposal put forward by the Hinksey and Osney Environment Group.

Joanne Emberson-Wines, project director on the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme, said: "We are talking with landowners and other affected parties to reach agreements over the land we’ll need for the scheme to work.

"It’s always our aim to reach land agreements directly. But as a precaution, we also run a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO).

"A public inquiry is a normal part of the CPO process when there are objections from affected parties.

"We will continue to negotiate with the affected parties to try to reach agreement whilst we prepare for the public inquiry."