PLANS to protect Oxford against floods took a “very important step” forward yesterday after a first offer of funding was made towards the city’s £125m flood relief channel.
The Western Conveyance scheme was given the support of the Thames Regional Flood and Coastal Committee at a meeting in Wandsworth. It means the committee looks set to put aside £12m for the project – which would run between Seacourt Stream and Sandford Lock – and it has been recommended for inclusion in a six-year plan of flood relief schemes.
Bob Price, the leader of Oxford City Council, said this marked the first of what he hoped would be many financial commitments towards the project.
He said: “This is a very important first step. It means that this is now a priority scheme which will lead to significant improvements.”
The committee is made up of representatives of organisations across Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Surrey, London and Hertfordshire.
It was established in 2010 to make sure there are coherent plans for managing flood risk.
Along with other similar committees around the country it puts bids to the Environment Agency (EA) for projects which it thinks should be in its six-year plan of flood defence schemes.
The EA has previously said the project could also attract between £30m and £50m of Government funding, on top of the £12m from the committee, but this money would only be released once ministers actually gave the scheme approval.
And more financial commitments are needed before the scheme can actually go ahead – with a funding gap of around £70m to close, although the city and county councils have agreed to put funding towards the scheme.
Rodney Rose, the deputy leader of the county council, represents Oxfordshire on the committee.
He said: “This is clearly very good news but it must be stressed that this is far from a definitive and final decision. Further obstacles need to be cleared before we can say for certain that this project will happen at some point in future years.”
The £12m is made up of local levy funding – money from a levy to all of the different organisations that make up the committee.
David Bedlington, the EA’s flooding coastal risk management programme manager for the Thames, said the future of the Western Conveyance would become clearer in July when the committee will formally vote.
And the Environment Agency needs to sign off the £12m commitment before it can be released to the scheme.
Oxford West and Abingdon MP Nicola Blackwood said: “It is great news that the committee has backed local residents and businesses and agreed with us that the scheme must go ahead.
“This is only the first hurdle we need to overcome but this decision sends a strong message to the EA, to Government, to local authorities and other funders that this is the right flood defence project for Oxford and Abingdon and it is time to commit to funding it.”
Andrew Smith, the MP for Oxford East, said: “It is very good news and it is a further very welcome and necessary step.
“Obviously more money is needed and all the dominoes need to be in line for it to happen but this is an extremely important one.”