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Agenda item

Witney Flood Report Update


To provide the Committee with Witney Flood Report update.



That the Committee notes the report, and provides comment and feedback where needed.


The Vice-Chair asked Environmental Agency (EA) for an update on the Witney Flood Report.

Joe Cuthbertson from EA provided a high level update to the committee, as one of the many agencies involved. The EA role is the organisation that has the strategic overview of all sources of flood risk, which means we support and work with risk management authorities like local flood and highways authorities to ensure that flooding from rivers, drains, road drains and sewage is managed effectively. The operational responsibility for managing response to each of those flood types falls with different organisations. The lead local flood authority would lead on the smaller rivers and surface flood waters. The EA would lead on the main rivers which Witney has and the EA has a role.

In response to the report Mr Cuthbertson briefed on the following:

·         Flood warning was late – upgrades have been done to flood warning arrangements, to enable an earlier and more reliable warning in the future. The breach threshold has been lowered, upstream the flow gauge has an alarm fitted to ensure earlier warnings.

·         Engagement with the Witney Flood Mitigation Group – meetings have occurred and EA will commit to continue engagement.

·         Medium term – EA have made bids for funding for river maintenance for example removing some of the larger blockages, river banks are cleared, this is in addition to the maintenance plan. This is a limited source of funding and staffing to carry out maintenance, which has been extended for Witney, which is in place for this financial year, work has begun.

·         Looking at riparian owners’ rights – owners that have properties that back onto the banks of rivers, it is their responsibility to keep it clear. Working with the Witney Flood Mitigation Group to identify these owners. EA will advise these owners on how they can maintain the river banks to keep them clear.

·         Longer term – EA are updating the modelling which informs the EA flood mapping which is published online. Updating this modelling for Windrush and smaller tributaries. This will give more accurate representation of what arears are likely to flood and when. Looking at levels of rainfall that are likely to cause flooding. New modelling expected early 2024, there is a limited team working on this for the whole country. EA is exploring every avenue it can to assist Witney residents. An economic assessment will then be made following the update to see what could be put in place for Witney.


The Vice-Chair thanked Mr Cuthbertson for the update and went onto announced that Councillor Enright was organising an Emergency Flood Planning meeting on 6 July, which will focus on human side of emergency planning, which all present was invited to. Today however should be focused on the division of responsibilities between the parties present at the committee in terms of maintenance of the rivers rather than the emergency actions, which will be Councillor Enright’s focus on 6 July.


The Vice-Chair slides were then shown at the meeting, a copy of which is attached to these minutes.

The Vice-Chair explained that the slide was EA data since 1950, Windrush river discharge data by day, available on line. The height of the floods have increased and the frequency of the floods increased, so it’s a bigger problem today than in 20th century. Based on Oct 2021 data, of the 93 days since 1950 the discharge of the Windrush lower end was over 15 cubic meters a second, 89 of them were in the last 15 years, 21 of them in the last 12 months.

Next slide showed a EA map of South East West Oxfordshire, a map of main rivers, each blue line is a main river, which means a permit is required to dig out a ditch. The riparian owners are responsible to get the work done, to do the work you need a permit from the EA. A lot of ditches and rivers needing maintenance, a huge undertaking when you look at the scale and length of the river. The EA maps are available on line on the EA website.


The Vice-Chair invited questions from the committee to EA.

Councillor Pearson asked what were the criteria for permits being granted or not granted.

Mr Cuthbertson explained reason for permits is so that the flood risk could be assessed. This is called flood risk activity permitting. Riparian owners are liable for up to 8m from the bank of the river, an example is someone may want to build a jetty for a boat. Applications for permits are assessed to ensure that works do not increase flood risk at other areas of the river. Often work that is required is to reduce the risk of flooding. Determination timescale is typically two months from when the application is received, for complex cases it can take longer, sometimes it’s because further information is required. 

See link for further information:


The Vice-Chair asked EA how may permits had been granted in the last 3 years and the distances in total.

Evie Kingsmill from EA took the question as an action to take away and come back on.


Councillor Ruth Smith asked for clarity, did human response to emergency flooding get considered at Social and Economic Scrutiny Committee.

Mr Oddy the Group Manager - Commercial Development, Leadership and Management Team,clarified that emergency planning and the impact on the community would generally be dealt with at Social and Economic Scrutiny Committee.

Councillor Ruth Smith also commented that the Section 19 report that the LFA published was slightly different than the one that was published on the Agenda, and that she realised the dates were different but suggested members take a look at the one that LFA had published online.

Councillor Fenton asked EA about the riparian owners responsibility to keep the watercourses clear, and that they are encouraged to do so. What happens if they don’t do it.

Mr Cuthbertson confirmed that it depended on the risk, they would offer advice and guidance. Enforcement is less well resourced, so on occasion EA had to go and do the work if the risks were high. On the whole though it was not a huge issue with riparian owners. EA rely on people reporting, but often its spotted by teams doing maintenance.

Councillor Al-Yousuf remarked that he had not received an invite to Councillor Enright’s 6 July meeting, and added he would not be able to attend. Councillor Al-Yousuf also commented that he thought that the human response to flooding should really sit with the Climate and Environment Scrutiny committee.

The Vice-Chair confirmed that everyone was invited to the meeting on 6 July, and that following the meeting, it would still be picked up within this scrutiny committee.

Councillor Al-Yousuf also enquired why the meeting was being held outside the scrutiny committee. The Vice-Chair confirmed he would ask councillor Enright and come back with an answer.

Councillor Al-Yousuf added that he looked forward to hearing from the county council and others later in the meeting, and hoped that information goes beyond information exchange, and wants the outcome to be action plan and recommendations to the Cabinet. So far what he had heard was useful and informative but as a scrutiny committee we should be recommending. The Vice-chair agreed with Councillor Al-Yousuf comments.

Councillor Coles thanked EA for attending and was pleased to hear that work on Emma’s Dyke was going to happen. However what was needed was a flood mitigation scheme, until Witney is given the investment for a scheme we are going to continue every few years to have major floods occurring.

Councillor Brooker asked EA is the investigation into the Hayley Road ditch up to the Colbert or is it just underneath the road, who is ultimately responsible. Mr Cuthbertson confirmed that he would need to check and get back to the committee.

The Vice–Chair introduced the Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) virtual attendees Nick Mottram and Alice Dimaline, as OCC were the lead authority. At present it was an informal agreement, however there was a formal arrangement to be put in place, and asked if the formal arrangement could be finalised by the next month.

Nick Mottram referred to the Agency Agreement and agreed that at present it was operating on an informal arrangement. After reviews with legal teams and sign off it can be put in place. He would be open to review any outstanding items that WODC may have concern with.

The Vice-Chair invited Mr Mottram to explain to the committee how the lead authority works, and the dynamics of the team.

Mr Mottram explained that the lead local flood authority works under the Flood Water Management Act,  It’s there to ensure that various risk management authorities work together to manage risk, that they are working effectively together. There are inputs from EA a key partner, district councils, highways, emergency planning functions, and OCC. Delegated powers down the local authorities and the Section 19 Investigation reports. WODC Officers put together a very helpful flood investigation report, that’s not quite the same as the formal Section 19 report that we need to issue on behalf of the RLFA, it provides a starting point. Section 19 reports are published on our website and additional information on management of flooding. Section 19 reports provides a more detailed framework for action, a whole suite of recommendations, and who consultations should be with. The recommendations are pretty much the same as the WODC Officers recommendations, there are slight adjustments where felt more appropriate, and change of wording slightly, however its very much the same document.

The Vice-chair referred to page 11 of the report where there were actions and progress, then on page 36 to page 38 there are main actions. There are no dates or timelines, or in some cases how, and does not say who would action. Having a specific title of who would be responsible for auctioning, would help. If EA, WODC, OCC were in agreement in the next month could 5.2 main actions be reviewed so that this information is reflected in the document, specifically time, how if relevant, and who is responsible.

Mr Cuthbertson commented that these were recommendations, and they needed to firm up actions, how and timescales are dependant. This would be the plan, and as the actions are updated it would be transparent and online.

Mr Laurence King the Shared Lead Flood Risk Management Officer, Development Management, commented on the EA key modelling exercise that was being done, he thought it would be helpful to the committee to have EA give expectations on timescales for the key modelling, as most recommendations lead on from the modelling.

Evie Kingsmill confirmed that modelling was underway, data collection would be occurring over the summer, the model would hope to be ready back end of 2023, which would be fairly detailed in nature., as a sound evidence base is needed to look at a viable business case for funding.

The Vice-Chair commented that it is uncomfortable to hear the length of timescales, especially when you look at 2007, 2014 and 2020 floods which all were supposed to be once in a 100 years, its concerning, time is not on our side. Are there not actions that can be taken now rather than waiting until end of 2023 just to get the model.

Mr Cuthbertson explained that the EA programme is the biggest in the EA history, and large spending the government requires spot on evidence, which is why they need the modelling. Climate change is causing a lot of the flooding issues and it was happening all over the country, he could assure WODC that modelling was not happening any faster anywhere else in the country. However its not to say that there aren’t anything that can’t be done sooner, around the maintenance and working with the flood mitigation working groups. It’s a challenge, flooding is getting worse and its devastating when it happens.

The vice-Chair asked if as EA goes through the action plan can small stuff that could make an impact, can we be informed of what these are and what the costs maybe, as WODC and OCC may need to look at funding. A list would be appreciated of what could be done within the next twelve months.

Mr King confirmed that his team consistently looked for quick wins, if there is anything we could do locally we would do it to our best of our ability. If there are any quick wins the partnership identifies we will do it.

The Vice-Chair commented that the EA have maps that differentiate rivers by low, medium and high risk, is this right and could WODC have a copy, just for West Oxfordshire.

Evie Kingsmill confirmed that she could provide some links for the minutes and the committee, and there is an interactive map on line..

The Vice-Chair stated it would be helpful to have a view where there is a risk to property or life.

Evie Kingsmill confirmed that this was part of the modelling.

The Vice-Chair asked for the EA view of where there is property or life risk in West Oxfordshire only.

Mr Cuthbertson eluded to the emergency planning that they worked with partners that show vulnerable areas, populations within a flood plain, hospitals, schools.

Mr King added that the maintenance plan will go a long way to know where the risks are too.

Councillor Goodwin asked about the modelling, would it include all low, medium and high risk areas.

Mr Cuthbertson confirmed that the modelling would turn into maps to show low, medium and high areas. All new developments are looked at closely with the developer and EA often ask developers to do an in depth investigation into flood risks, which EA can assist them with.

Councillor Al-Yousuf asked that the committee to support the cabinet member with the portfolio of flood management with a set of recommendations. For the next committee could we have an opinion on the status of the agency agreement with OCC.

The Vice-Chair agreed and was hoping that with OCC agreement of one month for the final agreement to be in place would be confirmed.


The Vice-Chair guided the committee to page 49 of the report, which was the Thames Water answers to questions. He particularly highlighted the sewage treatment works spend in the last 15 years, and encouraged committee members to look at the forecast spend and the population numbers re capacity.


Mr Phil Martin the Group Manager - Business Services, Leadership and Management Team, introduced the Thames water report. Mr Martin stated that the Thames Water report was only received recently within the past few days, on page 50, they had flagged up what was being excluded, this was quite key in regards to failures. Whilst they did provide some information, especially on investment. We need to understand where the failures are, more data is required. We believe we have only a partial picture at the moment. We have been in contact with Thames Water about bringing them to the table, to talk about the information that has been omitted for whatever reason.

Councillor Fenton was concerned there was no investment in Clanfield and no future investment, and I know that works have been done.

Mr King agreed and said that they wanted to talk to Thames Water about the different departments within the organisation on how they work together and share information. Operational expenditures are not even mentioned in the reports, the true expenditure we have yet to get to. Maybe pick a pilot area to focus on expenditure.

Councillor Al-Yousuf was concerned about capacity of staff hours, technical expertise, analysing the data and information. WODC responsibility as a planning authority to ensure we check sewage capacity, do we have resource for this.

Mr King commented that planning are relying on expert opinion, Thames Water are not a statutory consultee, they do comment but not as a statutory consultee which needs to change. If they do comment and say there is a problem, it gives the opportunity to negotiate with the applicant for Section 106 money, once its got planning consent the water supplier accepts the connection. If Thames Water comments that a development wont breach the trigger would we question that opinion, we probably would not, it’s a difficult situation.

Councillor Ruth Smith agreed that it stays into specialist scientific expertise that local authority does not have.

Mr Martin agreed all operational data would have been useful, and perhaps it was not available. It was a good start of the overall picture.

Mr King thought they could analysis the data site by site, however hydraulic models and validation of those would be challenging, time consuming and expensive.

Mr King added that there was going to be an open day at Witney Sewage Treatment Works soon so he thought Councillors would probably attend to ask questions.

The Vice-chair thanked Mr Martin for bringing the Thames Water report to the attention of the committee. Whilst officers continued to work with Thames Water, perhaps Mr Richard Aylard of Thames Water could be invited to the next committee.

Councillor Ruth Smith referred to the paragraph in the report on page 50 re the practicality of providing detailed reporting.

Mr King also confirmed that Thames Water intend to hold surgeries possibly at Woodgreen WODC offices, where individual Parishes would be invited to come in and talk about local problems, probably in the autumn.

Councillor Brooker asked if WODC could request Thames Water to provide the information that we want.

Mr Martin confirmed they would push for information in consultation with Thames Water.






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