DEPUTY Prime Minister Nick Clegg has warned there is no guarantee of government money for the £160m scheme to save Oxford from future flooding.
Mr Clegg was in Oxfordshire to sign an agreement promising to deliver £1.2bn investment in Oxfordshire.
But he made clear that when it comes to flooding, Oxford will simply have to fight for funding along with other flood-hit areas of the UK, all with their hopes of flood defence projects.
The latest floods have strengthened calls for the Western Conveyance Channel – a new waterway west of the city to channel flood water away from homes – to be built.
Mr Clegg, speaking on Thursday after the signing in Harwell of the new Oxfordshire City Deal agreement with local councils and other partners said: “If I was a resident of Oxford I would be on the barricades campaigning for the channel, as much as anyone else. I totally understand the strength of feeling. If you live in a home that is flooded repeatedly with property and objects of value damaged, with time off work, it is a harrowing experience.
“But I do not come here brandishing a magic wand. It would be unfair to pretend otherwise.
“Almost every community in the country is worried about how they can make areas more resilient to the threat of flooding.
“The debate you are having in Oxford about the channel can be reproduced hundreds of times around the country.”
The Lib Dem leader urged the city to press ahead with its case for the Western Conveyance project to channel flood water around the city, while also continuing to examine other measures.
But he warned: “As a Government we have to look at things as a whole.
“The responsible thing for us to do as a government is to step back and look at all these needs.
“There is not an infinite amount of money and we have to decide which are the most cost-effective priorities at a time like this.”
Oxford City Council Labour leader Bob Price said last night: “It demonstrates how out of touch he is with the people of Oxfordshire and their representatives.
“This is a project the Environment Agency identified as a priority as long ago as 2008 and a need for it has been demonstrated very clearly in the last decade – particularly in the last year.”
Peter Rawcliffe, of Oxford Flood Alliance, said: “Oxford is in a pretty desperate situation.
“We are facing flooding again in the next few days. I think enough is enough, it is time something is done.”
Environment Agency spokeswoman Cheryl Walmsley said: “We have a strategy to manage flood risk in Oxford that will reduce the risk to more than 3,600 homes and businesses for a flood that has a one in 75 chance of occurring in any year.
“The cost of delivering the next phase of the strategy – the Western Conveyance Channel – would be in the region of £125m if work was to start now.
“We would expect to be able to bid for £40m from Government under the partnership funding approach, once the rest has been secured from third party contributions.
“However, this next phase does not yet meet the economic criteria needed for work to start.”
She said the EA had delivered the first phases of the Oxford Strategy, spending £2.5m on a range of measures, such as temporary defences for areas including Osney Island and homes near Hinksey Lake in South Oxford, to reduce the risk to properties from flooding.