Sunday, 3 August 2008

Flood One Year On

In the Oxford Times Andrew Ffrench writes:

FLOOD ONE YEAR ON: 'Never say never again'
Charlbury Road bridge when the floods hit last July
Charlbury Road bridge when the floods hit last July

Households in Oxfordshire have spent "millions of pounds" in a desperate effort to ensure a repeat of last year's devastating flooding never happens again.

In the past year, homeowners - some of whom are still out of their properties - have purchased a range of equipment designed to keep rising water at bay.

Some have even spent their insurance pay-outs flood-proofing their properties.

But exactly a year on from the chaos, the Government has warned those living in flood-prone areas to brace themselves for more frequent deluges in years to come.

Although significant progress has been made clearing up a large part of last July's mess, floods recovery minister John Healy last night said "never say never again".

He added: "The blunt truth is we are faced with the sort of rain we have never seen before in Britain in records going back 250 years. We can never say never again."

More than 2,100 homes across Oxfordshire flooded last summer.

Mary Dhonau, chief executive of the National Flood Forum, said: "Millions of pounds has been paid by residents in Oxfordshire on repair work and, as well as insurance cover, they have also invested their own money on protecting their homes."

By the end of June, the number of families still out of their homes in Oxfordshire had fallen to 158 - down from 231 in May and 291 in April.

Of those, 18 Oxford households are still in temporary accommodation.

In west Oxfordshire, 90 families are still out of their homes, while in the Vale of White Horse the figure is 50.

Nick Hills, 59, of Earl Street, West Oxford, said: "Since the flood I have been living with friends.

"I got about £25,000 in insurance and I spent that and several thousand more to make my home more flood-resilient.

"I got a stone floor fitted and I am waiting for a fully submersible recycled plastic kitchen to be installed."

Craig Woolhouse, of the Environment Agency, said: "We've had a huge challenge in responding to the floods, but we've been pressing ahead with the job we are here to do.

"Since last summer, we have spent £2m to complete river maintenance, de-silting work, channel maintenance and improving river structures in Oxfordshire.

"We acknowledge we haven't been able to do everything people wanted."

Earlier this month, a demonstration of demountable defences was held in West Oxford.

About 100 people attended the event, where a variety of flood defence products, including absorbant sandbags, water pumps, air brick covers and door and garage barriers were sold.

Tim Sadler, executive director of city services at Oxford City Council and chairman of the joint Oxfordshire group on flooding, said: "The reality of climate change means the risk of floods is ever-present and increasing."

Oxfordshire County Council has spent £600,000 on improving highway drainage at 30 locations in the county.

21st July 2008

Floods: "Apparent Lack of Action"

The most viewed article in the electronic version of the Witney Gazette this week was an article written by David Horne
"I don't want to have to go to my insurers with yet another very expensive bill," said Terry Siddall

A MAN whose home was flooded in July last year has highlighted the 'apparent lack of action' to prevent it happening again.

77-year-old Terry Siddall suffered damage running to more than £50,000 when water poured into his house at New Found Out Farm, near Hailey. Four other cottages were also flooded, with families moved out to temporary accommodation.

He has had a barrier ramp built at the entrance to the farmyard properties, but is still fighting to solve the source of the problem, blocked ditches and highways drains. He said: "I've seen plenty of words about what needs to be done since last July, but it's action that's needed. There seems to have been no apparent action about the problems here."

Mr Siddall's home is adjacent to the B4022 Witney to Charlbury road on a hill coming down from Finstock. In heavy rain, the road becomes awash with water and, within the last two months, became impassable when it collected at a dip just past his home.

Floodwater last summer also poured into the farmyard from surrounding fields.

Mr Siddall, who has lived at New Found Out Farm since the 1960s, said: "It is well-known that ditches on both sides of the B4022 and the road to Ramsden have not been maintained over the years, and they have been allowed by the landowners to deteriorate.

"I am naturally worried that all these properties will flood again unless proper maintenance is carried out. I don't want to have to go to my insurers with yet another very expensive bill."

More than 1,600 properties received flooding of various levels in West Oxfordshire last July, and about 80 are still vacant while repairs are carried out.

In the post-flood analysis, the Environment Agency and county and district councils agreed that much of the damage was not caused by rivers bursting their banks, but ditches overflowing because of poor maintenance.

Although inspections have been carried out, and action plans are being drawn up for all 80 of the district's parishes, it is conceded that the work is taking a long time.

Lawrence King, action principal engineer for West Oxfordshire District Council, said: "In many cases, it is a shared responsibility between landowners and the highways authority. Land searches to find out ownership is a long process, and not always clear. Where we can establish responsibility, we contact them to clear out ditches, and assist run-off. This is taking time.

"In Mr Siddall's case, we can see that grips, or channels, from the road need to be properly maintained to take water away, and that ditches need to be cleared."

The problem at New Found Out Farm would, added Mr King, be highlighted in the flood report due to be published on Hailey parish.

An officer from the county council's highways department visited Mr Siddall to assess what work needs to be done.

He himself has suggested using adjoining fields as run-off areas to take water from the road and away from nearby homes. But agreement is still needed from landowners.

Witney MP David Cameron was on Friday meeting residents in Milton-under-Wychwood, as well as the Witney Flood Action Group over continuing concerns about repeat flooding.

29th July 2008