TOWNS downstream of Oxford have warned new flood defences for the city can’t be allowed to dump the problem on them.
Downing Street is being lobbied by local MPs and council leaders over plans for a £123m Western Conveyance channel running from north of Botley Road to Sandford Lock south of the city.
But fears have been raised that Abingdon, Wallingford and other areas south of the city could end up being hit in the way critics in flood-ravaged Wraysbury in Berkshire say the £110m Jubilee River near Windsor did.
Abingdon Town Council leader Sandy Lovatt said: “Oxford acts as a little bit of a sponge. If the channel is going to dump it straight into the river over Abingdon, it is going to be a bit of a tidal wave.
“I am sure Wallingford, Henley and Marlow are saying the same thing. You can’t just push the problem down the river.
“We are not Abingdon-under-Thames, we are still Abingdon-on-Thames.”
Mayor of Wallingford Bernard Stone agreed, saying: “We are justifiably concerned about it. Logic tells me if you build a relief channel to get the water downstream quicker you are going to get a greater volume of water downstream.”
To try to address these fears, Abingdon and Oxford West MP Nicola Blackwood is today meeting the Environment Agency, leader of Vale of White Horse District Council Matthew Barber and chairwoman of the Thames Regional Flood and Coastal Committee Amanda Nobbs.
They will be discussing at the Vale’s offices in Abingdon what the impact is likely to be on the town and what measures should be put in place to stop river levels rising.
Ms Blackwood said: “While the Western Conveyance appears to be the right scheme to protect Oxford and nearby villages from flooding, Abingdon residents must have complete confidence that it will not put them at further risk.
“This meeting is about ensuring that Abingdon is properly protected from flooding and properly represented as discussions about long-term flood defences continue.”
A proposed £2m flood protection scheme for Abingdon is expected to be announced today as part of the project – increasing the cost of the Western Conveyance channel from £123m to £125m.
Mr Barber said: “I wouldn’t like to go as far as saying that getting flood defences is a condition of my support for the Western Conveyance, but clearly they should be part of it and that’s the purpose of the meeting.”
Concerned residents in Abingdon and Wallingford, some of who were flooded in 2007, say they are worried it could raise the risk of being flooded again if the Environment Agency scheme goes ahead.
Abingdon resident Michila Lomas was flooded in her Turberville Close home in 2007.
The 44-year-old mum-of-two said: “It would make us even more nervous. Unless they sort it out, I would be totally against it.”
Clifton Hampden resident Julie Pearson, who lives at the Bridge House Caravan Site, has been left stranded at home by the floods twice so far this year for several days at a time.
Mrs Pearson, 62, said: “If they did what they are saying, it could be worse. They have got to take other people into consideration.”
Experts said there would be some changes downstream if the scheme went ahead.
David Ramsbottom, technical director of flood management at hydraulics company HR Wallingford, reviewed the model for the planned Western Conveyance Channel in 2006.
He said: “It is inevitable there could be some changes. You are reducing the amount of water stored in the floodplain around Oxford which could mean an increase in the level downstream.”
He said water levels could go up by a few millimetres.
Environment Agency spokesman Joe Giacomelli said: “The scheme is in the proposal stage but we would not consider building a flood alleviation scheme that increases flood risk to any communities.”
Meanwhile, the Environment Agency has said Oxfordshire remains in the low-risk category and will do so today also.
There will be some rainfall today and more bad weather on Sunday.
Flood warnings in place for the Osney, Botley and Kings Lock areas were lifted yesterday evening.