Roy Darke
Oxford city councillor for Headington Hill and Northway

Everyone goes into politics with the intention of making things better.

Differences between politicians are largely in terms of what they want to improve.

When we moved into New Marston it became clear that there was a history of local foul water flooding.

Neighbours in Ferry and Edgeway Roads told us it had been present for years, with raw sewage regularly overflowing onto roads and threatening people’s homes.

I contacted Thames Water and found them wholly unresponsive, saying: “We have no records of problems in the area.”

Whether by design or neglect they had no system for tracking or recording complaints. A proper system would have revealed the persistent problem.

This was just not good enough, so I wrote to the National Office for Water (OFWAT), which could then require water companies to deal with flooding problems.

Regular flooding at Ferry Road on the well-used cycleway and footpath into central Oxford via Parsons’ Pleasure meant that walkers, cyclists and pushchairs had to go through raw sewage when the manholes overflowed.

I got the then Director of Public Health (Oxford) involved in my campaign who confirmed the hazard.

Eventually OFWAT took up my issue and they required Thames Water to do work in New Marston.

The hold-back tanks now built under New Marston recreation ground and Court Place Farm are wholly due to my single-handed campaign.

But flooding remains a big issue in Oxford.

The sewerage system is more than 100 years old and problems elsewhere, such as sewage flooding in Grandpont streets and basements, needed immediate action.

Oxford, as a riverside town, has a sewerage system which is shallow with limited falls, so that foul water needs to be pumped to get to the treatment plant at Sandford.

In 2013/14 Oxford City Council’s scrutiny committee set up a sewage flooding panel with myself as chairman.

The intention of the panel was to get Thames Water to take foul water flooding seriously and get something done.

The panel called a high-evel meeting in May 2014 where I got senior staff of the company to meet, and MPs Andrew Smith and Nicola Blackwood were invited.

At the end of the meeting Thames Water agreed a joint statement with the city council, which included a commitment to a full catchment study of Oxford sewers to identify foul water flooding hotspots and to create an action plan.

At a follow-up meeting earlier this year, the panel received feedback from Thames Water and the research study is now well under way.

Where problems can be dealt with, they are being fixed straightaway and there is noticeable reduction in the level of sewage flooding incidents in the city.

The study and remedial work continues and includes some major projects, such as, refurbishing the Littlemore pumping station and reconfiguring the sewers at problem spots.

Of great personal pleasure is my long support for the Northway and Marston surface water flood alleviation scheme now under way. This will give protection to over 100 homes in Stockleys Road and elsewhere.

Heavy rain overwhelms the Peasemoor Brook culvert under Marsh Lane/Cherwell Drive and flood water backs up into Northway. When the scheme is completed in late 2016/early 2017, residents on Northway will know that my persistence has brought benefit to them and others.

It is a good example of what local politics is all about.