Many factors contributed to the severity of the recent Oxford floods – a lot of rain fell in a short time; the Government reneged on its flood defence funding commitments; Oxford’s developer-friendly planning officers, too idle to think beyond getting their coats on at 5:00, too thick, indeed, to think at all, allowed unlimited building on flood plains, and so on.
One of the chief culprits was the Environment Agency, on two counts: they could have stood more strongly against flood-plain development (they could not bar it, but they could have opposed it) and they could have kept the channels clear.
The Environment Agency inherited in 1996 (via an intermediate bit of the function-shuffling which passes for government management now) those responsibilities which had until 1973 been performed by the Thames Conservancy. Any which were too expensive, or not susceptible to target-setting (and therefore bonuses), were abandoned. These included the dredging and other channel clearance operations which the Thames Conservancy had done as a matter of routine.
The Environment Agency’s paymaster is the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – DEFRA – a bureaucratic black hole where also-ran ministers and dead-beat civil servants go to sleep their way to retirement.
In a post of March called Oxford Canal – the alternative view, I showed some photographs of the channel which lies beside the southern end of the Oxford Canal, just above Hythe Bridge Street. Here are some more:
As you can see, the channel was completely blocked with branches and rubbish. I expressed concern not only as a rate-payer being terrorised by Oxford City Council for the slightest breach of the rubbish regulations, but as a house-holder living upstream from the blockage.
A walk up by Kirtlington earlier in the winter had revealed that the River Cherwell above Oxford was similarly blocked by branches and other rubbish.
This is basic house-keeping. You don’t need to be intelligent or knowledgeable to see that water-courses must be kept clear, nor be particularly diligent just to get on and do it.
So why wasn’t it done? And is it going to be done from now on?