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New Westgate car park to take flood water in a crisis
PLANS to use a new underground car park in Oxford to alleviate flooding in the city have been welcomed by victims.
The Westgate Alliance – which is behind plans for the new Westgate Shopping Centre development – has offered its proposed car park for use as flood water storage if the Thames bursts its banks in extreme circumstances such as the floods of 2007.
The £400m redevelopment plan includes a new John Lewis store, revamped shopping centre and the demolition of the existing Westgate car park and its replacement with an underground parking lot for 1,100 cars.
The news has been welcomed by people who were affected by severe flooding in July 2007.
Flooding has been a regular feature of life in Oxford with the city deluged in 1854 and 1892 and again in 1903, 1947, 1954, 1959, 1979, 1889.
Former NHS administration assistant Mary Timbrell, of Duke Street, had to move out of her home for more than a year after the bottom floor of her house was water damaged.
The 75-year-old said: “West Oxford is a network of interlinking filigrees of waterways, which makes it look very idyllic, but they become raging torrents after heavy rain and they burst their banks.
“Anything which is going to alleviate flooding is welcome.”
Oxford Flood Alliance spokesman Peter Rawcliffe said: “On the face of it it sounds sensible. Having somewhere where flood water can be tucked away for a bit until it eases off is not a bad idea.
“It would sound like this would only be used in the worst-case scenarios, but it is wise to future-proof these developments.”
While the proposal has been welcomed by some, traders have raised concerns about the potential loss of parking spaces, and asked for clarity over the amount of time the car park is likely to be out of action in the event of severe flooding.
ROX traders’ association spokesman Graham Jones said: “One would hope that it would only be used in a real emergency, and obviously if it was used for more than a couple of days then that would have a knock-on effect on trade.”
Westgate Alliance spokeswoman Leanne Parkinson said: “To ensure our emerging proposals for the redevelopment of the Westgate Centre adequately account for flood risk, we are working closely with our environmental consultant Waterman, our architects and our structural engineers to undertake a full flood-risk assessment.
“We are working on the detail of the flood-risk assessment and the principle is supported by both the Environment Agency and the city and county councils.”
Environment Agency spokesman Hayley Willoughby said: “The developer has proposed using the underground car park to store flood water during extreme flood events.
“Allowing the controlled entry of water into the car park could help manage the risk of flooding in the area, ensuring risk to the surrounding area is not increased.
“Following a flood the water would then be released at a controlled rate as the levels within the rivers drop.
“The Environment Agency has accepted this approach could be viable subject to a detailed design and management of these plans being agreed by the developer and local authority.
“The management plan will need to ensure the scheme is properly managed and maintained for the lifetime of the development.
“The local planning authority and Environment Agency are awaiting further details of the scheme before making a final decision.”
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