MP responds to West Oxford floods

Nicola BlackwoodDear Mr Magee,

Many thanks for your recent email telling me of your concern about the current flooding in Oxford, and in particular around the Botley Road area. Please accept my apologies for the delay in my reply, which was due in part to the large number of letters and emails I have received in recent weeks.

For many local families what should have been an enjoyable beginning to 2014 was quickly turned into quickly a nightmare by the distress and disruption of flood risk to their homes and businesses. I am sorry to read that a number of your friends have suffered flooding in their homes on the Botley Road, and I can only imagine how difficult it has been for you in the last few weeks.

Please be assured that as your local MP, I am absolutely determined to keep the issue of our flood defences firmly on the local and national agenda. In recent weeks I have travelled back from Westminster to the constituency on numerous of occasions to meet local residents, Environment Agency (EA) officials, local councillors and emergency response teams to see and hear for myself the situation on the ground as it is developing. On the specific subject of Environment Agency staffing, as you may be aware, the Prime Minister announced a few days ago that in light of the current situation, the planned 550 job losses at the EA will now be put on hold.

I have met on numerous occasions with all the key players in the response effort, including the EA, the Police, Fire Brigade, local action groups and local residents, many of whom have  been working tirelessly almost since Christmas to pump out water, repair burst piping, confine sewage leaks and restore normal services to our communities. While there will always be ways in which we can improve our response to flooding, many local residents affected regularly by flood risk tell me that locally the emergency response and resilience to flooding has improved year on year since the terrible floods of 2007.

Burst Sewage Pipes

However, whilst I applaud the hard work of these teams to reduce and repair the damage, I am bitterly disappointed that yet again this year recurring problems such as leaking sewage pipes have still affected so many. The truth is that we need urgent action on our drainage infrastructure, a point which have raised repeatedly with both Thames Water and the Environment Secretary. Hard-working local groups such as Oxfordshire Flood Alliance and the Ock Valley Flood Group, have done a great deal to highlight these problems to relevant authorities and I will be holding a half day meeting with Thames Water in the near future to go through the detail of the problems that have arisen in each part of my constituency and discuss how this appalling state of affairs can be more effectively prevented in the future.

Local Term Solutions Necessary

On flood prevention more widely, I was pleased to see that this year many local flood defence measures implemented since 2007 have been successful in protecting people and property; but there is clearly a great deal more work to be done. Yet again many properties have not escaped the flood water and countless more residents have been affected by closed roads and delayed buses and trains. I have therefore continued to put pressure on the local and central Government, response agencies and utility companies to improve and strengthen our flood defences going forward.

Parliamentary Questions to the Secretary of State

I have also ensured that local flood prevention and defences remain firmly on the Government’s horizon by asking a number of oral and written Parliamentary Questions in the House of Commons. You can read these questions and the responses here:
http://www.theyworkforyou.com/search/?s=flooding&pid=24842
http://www.theyworkforyou.com/search/?s=river+bed&pid=24842

Oxford Western Conveyance Plan

At the end of January I co-signed a letter with Andrew Smith MP and Councillor Bob Price to the Prime Minister, highlighting our ongoing concerns about the impact of regular flooding on Oxfordshire’s economy and calling for extensive investment in our flood defences. In particular the letter requested support for the Environment Agency’s flood alleviation scheme for Oxford and the Oxford Western Conveyance Plan, which would provide a viable long-term solution to the flooding problems that the city and its neighbouring villages has been experiencing in recent years.

David Cameron replied, assuring them of his determination that the right measures are taken over flooding in Oxford and offered a meeting with key Downing Street Advisors to discuss the practical details involved in the Western Conveyance Proposal. You can view the Prime Minister’s full reply at:
http://nicolablackwood.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=744&Itemid=37

River Maintenance, Including Dredging Operations

I am also raising with both the Secretary of State and the Environment Agency the issue of putting in place more regular maintenance of key tributaries around Oxford, including the Hinksey and Osney Stream areas. Continuing maintenance by riparian owners along the banks of Thames and its tributaries, smaller streams and watercourses on a regular basis is vital in order to clear obstructions and remove overgrown vegetation. Whilst the Environment Agency may not always have official responsibility carrying out these maintenance operations themselves, it is nevertheless important that they play a central role in advising and encouraging landowners to clear obstructions, providing practical assistance where necessary.
I also feel strongly that it is time we gave serious consideration as to whether future dredging operations along the Thames and its key tributaries would help to maintain water levels during times of heavy and persistent rainfall. The Environment Agency have not prioritised this method of flood control in recent years and to that end I have sent a series of written Parliamentary Questions to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, asking that his Department look into this subject in more depth.

The Future Of Flood Insurance – Flood Re Scheme

I am pleased that after many months of painstaking and detailed negotiations, Ministers from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the insurance industry to ensure affordable flood insurance for households in high risk areas without placing unsustainable costs on wider policyholders and the taxpayer. This new agreement with the Association of British Insurers (ABI) has been incorporated in the Water Bill, now in the final stages of passage through Parliament, and replaces the current ‘Statement of Principles’. It will bring peace of mind to people who need to renew their insurance from next year.

The new agreement will cap flood insurance premiums by linking them to council tax bands so that people will know the maximum they will have to pay. Customers will also be free to shop around to get the best overall deal from an insurer of their choice with some customers seeing prices fall. This agreement will also constrain the excesses that could be imposed on households at high flood risk. To fund this, a new industry-backed levy will enable UK household insurers to create a fund that can be used to pay claims for people in high-risk homes. The agreement will have legislative backing and will last for at least 20 years. The Scheme is due to come into effect in July 2015 and until then, the industry has agreed to continue to meet their commitments under the ‘Statement of Principles’.

Further information from the ABI on the Flood Re Scheme can be found here:
https://www.abi.org.uk/Insurance-and-savings/Topics-and-issues/Flooding/Government-and-insurance-industry-flood-agreement/The-Future-of-Flood-Insurance

And here is a link to my most recent Parliamentary Questions on Flood RE:
http://www.theyworkforyou.com/search/?s=flood+re&pid=24842

Flooding is without doubt a very serious problem for Oxfordshire and what we need now are long term solutions. I have been raising all of these issues locally and in Parliament and I assure you that I will continue to do so. I will also remain in close contact with local people, flood action groups, Thames Water and the Environment Agency as the flooding continues, vigorously representing the concerns of my constituents.

I do hope that this response has been helpful and thank you once again for taking the time to write to me. Please do get back in touch if I can be of further assistance.

Kindest regards

Nicola

Nicola Blackwood
MP for Oxford West & Abingdon

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