Residents and businesses in Oxford and other parts of the County have started the year with heavy rains and the devastation of flooding, with extensive disruption caused by road closures, train delays, and a number of homes and businesses flooded. There are also issues in South Oxford where sewerage-contaminated water got into the groundwater and came up in people's lower level rooms and basements.
The flood prevention works which have already been undertaken in Oxford have certainly helped to prevent even greater loss and damage. Environment Agency, Council and Thames Water front-line staff working around the clock have also done a fantastic job, and local residents have pulled together to help one another out. But with Oxfordshire one of the few landlocked areas in the country to experience such devastating flooding, it is clear that much more needs to be done to improve and strengthen our flood defences going forward, to prevent the same thing happening again the next time we have an intensive period of rain.
Flooding in Oxford is now happening with a regularity that is the cause of untold human misery and unacceptable losses to local businesses. Those who have been affected by the flooding know only too well how failure to invest in flood defences can be a false economy, with the loss to businesses caused by the recent floods estimated to run to millions of pounds. With cuts to the government's budget since 2010, it is time that those controlling the purse strings wake up to the reality of this, and take urgent action to get the most effective flood protection possible.
One option being considered is a water relief channel to divert water from the city, which would run from the Seacourt Stream north of Botley Road to the River Thames at Sandford Lock. In the light of this flooding it clearly needs to be looked at again as a matter of urgency, and I have raised parliamentary questions on this with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
I shall be stepping up the pressure on the government and the Environment Agency, both to get the go-ahead for the water relief channel, and accelerate smaller scale measures to cut the risk of flooding. Together with Oxford City Council Leader Bob Price, I will also be meeting with Thames Water to take them to task on the distress caused to people by sewerage flooding.
With the volumes of water which come through Oxford after intense rainfall, and with the complexity of the water courses throughout the city, we are always going to be vulnerable to flooding risk. That is all the more reason to do everything possible to protect our community.