Recent flooding in Oxford reminded residents that the city's flood channel has still not been competed.

Flooding in the wake of Storm Henk brought chaos, closing the Abingdon Road in Oxford, and affecting a large number of local businesses.

The flood waters also hit neighbourhoods in other towns including Abingdon and Wallingford.

READ MORE: Flooding pictures from Oxford and around Oxfordshire 

The £176m Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme, which would see a five km long stream dug through the floodplain in the west of the city, has been planned for a number of years.

But there have been delays in its completion.

Following the flooding earlier this month - exactly 10 years on from similar flooding in 2014 - Simon Collings of Oxford Flood Alliance, said the channel would have protected the city.

He said earlier this month: "Homes and businesses have flooded, and thousands of people in the city have faced a stressful 48 hours as the response services have battled to contain floodwater.

"If the proposed Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme were in place today none of this would have been happening."

Now he is revealed why, in his view, the flood channel is taking so long to complete.

He wrote: "In early January Oxford experienced its worst flooding since 2014.

Homes in the Botley, Osney and Abingdon Road areas of the city were threatened by the rising water, as was South Hinksey.

Abingdon Road was closed to traffic, Botley Road and Osney Mead were awash, even the A34 was closed for a time.

Oxford Mail: Flooding in Binsey Lane Buses, local businesses, anyone trying to travel were affected, and people living in flood-prone areas again faced sleepless nights, moving furniture upstairs, pumping sewage out of their gardens.

READ MORE: Restaurant owners scared by crash

But this was not a particularly big flood. We saw what happened in other parts of the country that had much higher rainfall.

Much more extensive flooding could happen in Oxford, and we need to be ready for it.

After the floods in 2014, a flood protection scheme for the city was planned: the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme.

This involves a channel that will take excess water around the west of the city, and protective embankments and flood walls for vulnerable areas. What has happened to this scheme?

Why is it taking so long? Why are residents again facing all the disruption and stress of a flooded city?

Here’s a quick guide to where we’ve got to.

The scheme has been fully designed and the funding is secure. To move forward it requires two things: planning permission from the County Council, and approval of a compulsory purchase order for the land needed to build the scheme.

Let’s take planning first. The Environment Agency (EA), which has developed the scheme, submitted the planning application for the project to the county council in February 2022.

This was put out for public consultation. The planning officers then asked the EA to provide additional information. This is normal in such large complex projects.

One of the matters requiring further information related to ‘biodiversity net gain’. This is the way in which projects have to demonstrate the natural environment will be enhanced, not damaged.

Some of the land in question was surveyed again and the biodiversity net gain recalculated.

As a result of this the EA agreed to find more areas outside the project in which to plant trees and hedges and create reed beds. Although this additional work has caused delays, it has environmental benefits.

Oxford Mail: Flooding in Botley RoadThe additional information was submitted to the county council in February 2023 and again put out for public comment. The plans are expected to be discussed by the planning committee this ‘spring’.

Now to the second requirement: approval of the compulsory purchase order. The EA needs to acquire a large amount of land to build the scheme and has asked the Secretary of State at DEFRA for the powers to do so.

Notice of compulsory purchase was served on affected landowners in March 2023. A small number of landowners objected, and this triggered a public inquiry. This again is normal for large projects.

For more information on the project see:

An independent inspector, Joanne Burston, was appointed to hear evidence at the inquiry. She agreed to accept evidence from private individuals objecting to the scheme as well as from landowners.

The Public Inquiry was held in Oxford at the end of 2023. In the final session, on 26 January, objectors and the EA will make their summary statements.

The inspector will then submit a report to the Secretary of State who will make a decision on whether or not to confirm the compulsory purchase order. We hope there will be a decision later this year, but there is no specific timetable.

Oxford Mail: Flooding near Earl StreetIf both planning permission and the compulsory purchase order are decided in the scheme’s favour, work on building it will begin.

It is expected to take five years to complete the project but the city will start to see benefits as soon as construction starts.

I am a member of the flood action group Oxford Flood Alliance. We support the flood alleviation project and want to see the outstanding decisions made quickly. We need the scheme to proceed before much worse flooding hits the city."

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About the author 

Andy is the Trade and Tourism reporter for the Oxford Mail and you can sign up to his newsletters for free here. 

He joined the team more than 20 years ago and he covers community news across Oxfordshire.

His Trade and Tourism newsletter is released every Saturday morning. 

You can also read his weekly Traffic and Transport newsletter.