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FLOODING: No promise from Pickles on relief channel for Oxford
ONE of the Government’s most senior cabinet ministers has made no promises of extra cash after visiting flood-hit Oxford yesterday.
While Prime Minister David Cameron vowed at a press conference yesterday that “if money needs to be spent it will be spent”, the Communities and Local Government minister Eric Pickles was less forthcoming.
As he surveyed anti-flood measures off Botley Road, he pledged to look at what could be done after a summit next month on long-term plans to tackle flooding – but offered nothing up front.
When asked by the Oxford Mail whether more money was on the way, he refused to give a clear commitment, but said: “We’ve got to look to the future in terms of looking at other schemes to answer this.”
The minister made no pledges committing the Government to fund a £123m flood relief channel, called the Western Conveyance as he visited on a day when the county was poised to deal with more bad weather this week.
This came despite the Prime Minister calling for talks to be held on the scheme – and after Mr Cameron yesterday said money was no object in tackling the national flooding crisis.
Mr Pickles met flood-affected residents on Bullstake Close, off Botley Road, and was told by one resident to take action as soon as possible.
But although he offered no guarantees of help, he did praise the work being done on the city route – and said it should be used nationally to tackle floods.
The Conservative MP said: “In fairness to the authorities here, these are pretty exceptional weather conditions and I have got nothing but praise for the fire service and the councils for the way they have worked together.
“I have been briefed about the Western Conveyance by the Environment Agency and there is a flood summit taking place next month, so we will look to see what comes out of that.
“I have been very impressed in terms of keeping Botley Road open and the firefighters are using a very unusual method of using high-pressure hoses to keep the water at bay and I think it may well have other applications elsewhere.
“I would say to residents that it is dreadful being flooded and I know from my own patch [Brentwood and Ongar] what it is like to deal with.”
He said the city’s way of keeping the floods at bay was so unique he was considering rolling it out across the country and referred to it as the “Oxford Method”.
Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service has set up makeshift barriers at three locations along Botley Road – at Bridge Street, Bullstake Close and McDonald’s – which are made of three hoses full of water, weighing around a tonne each, piled on top of each other.
So far this has managed to keep Botley Road open.
But Bob Price, the leader of Oxford City Council, said the only long-term solution would be to create the flood relief channel around the city to the west. He said: “The Western Conveyance is the only scheme which will reduce to risk of flooding to one in every 75 years, according to Environment Agency calculations.
“They are very confident it will be successful and it will make flooding a thing of the past.”
While visiting Bullstake Close, Mr Pickles met Jalal Khan, 49, who has lived there for around 14 years.
Mr Khan said: “Since I moved here in 2000 it has flooded three times and it is very stressful.
“I told Mr Pickles that we need some sort of permanent barrier against this because we need this matter solved as soon as possible.”
Another Bullstake Close resident, 67-year-old Clive Soames, said: “In 2007 we had no chance, but this time the guys have been absolutely fantastic. They cannot do enough for you. “I told Mr Pickles they are doing a fantastic job.”
Mr Pickles also visited the incident command unit in the Toys ‘R’ Us car park along Botley Road, from where the efforts to prevent flooding in the area are being coordinated.