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At war with floods: New strategy unveiled
By David Horne
 
West Oxfordshire District Council workers clearing out ditches near North Leigh this week
West Oxfordshire District Council workers clearing out ditches near North Leigh this week

MORE than 250 homes in West Oxfordshire are still unoccupied six months after last summer's floods.

Some are living in caravans while work is being carried on to dry out and repair their family homes.

And, while the district was this week bracing itself for the possibility of a new round of flooding, the district council in the worst hit part of Oxfordshire in July unveiled its strategy for dealing with a repeat event.

It plans to have in place by this summer a detailed set of procedures, including an overall flood risk plan, emergency contingencies, and inter-agency responsibilities.

The cost of last summer's flooding is ongoing. The council has established that a total of 268 properties are still uninhabitable, with all occupiers exempt from council tax until they return - the revenue loss so far is around 150,000.

The figure is higher than previously thought, and was collated from tax returns to provide up-to-date information for the council's interim report on the 2007 floods. Families are believed to be staying with relatives, and, in some cases, in accommodation paid for by insurance companies.

 

It has also emerged that the district's two major tourist attractions, Blenheim Palace and the Cotswold Wildlife Park, were badly hit in the month after the floods, losing thousands of visitors and revenue estimated at more than 100,000. A total of 103 businesses were also hit by flooding, and, while some have relocated, others like The Plough and Court Inn, in Witney, and Maytime Inn, at Asthall, are still closed.

Relics, restorers of furniture, have had to move out of town to the Crawley Mill industrial estate to stay in business. Kate Pollard, director, said: "We don't expect to be back in Bridge Street till May or June. The whole concrete floor has to be taken up, because it is supported by rotting timbers.

"We had ten minutes to get out of the shop after first spotting the flood waters. Anything that gives us more warning in future has to be welcomed."

The Plough pub, in High Street, is still closed as renovation continues, while all residents at Mill House nursing home are not expected to return until early Spring.

Peter and Morag Crowther, who run a piano shop in Bridge Street, have been able to continue - and have a backlog of restoration work on grand pianos which were affected by the floods all over the district.

Mrs Crowther said: "We are just muddling along. What we are looking for in future is some better kind of protection."

The 45-page report drawn up by the district council is the result of detailed investigation into the causes and effects of the flooding. Soon after July, it brought in specialists at a cost of 50,000 to help draw up an action plan.

Already work has started on clearing ditches and drains - in Witney one landowner, Pye Homes, has paid for the clearance of the ditch near the Queen Emma's Dyke estate.

A council team is out clearing blocked and overgrown ditches, one of the principal causes of the flooding that affected more than 1,600 homes.

On Monday, they were at North Leigh, working on a ditch near the A4095 Witney to Woodstock road at North Leigh Common, and also at Madley Brook, near Witney's new Madley Park housing estate.

The team is working on water courses along land the district council has responsibility for, and has already cleared ditches at Monahan Way and Station Road, Brize Norton, The Green, at Westwell, and along the Henry Box School playing field, in Witney.

Kevin Jack, council senior engineer, said: "We've now got to the stage where we have identified all we are responsible for, and are pressing ahead."

But the main task is plotting ditches, drains, streams, and rivers in the district's 83 parishes, and making landowners do similar maintenance.

David Harvey, cabinet member for the environment, said: "This has to be ongoing maintenance, not just a one-off hit." The action plan is giving a target date of April this year for an enforcement policy to be in place for landowners to maintain drains, culverts, and stream and river banks.

Barry Norton, council leader, said: "There still needs to be a clear strategy for who is managing this process, and more money from the Government to implement it in rural areas."

Copies of the interim report will soon be available from the council. Alternatively, it can be downloaded from westoxon.gov.uk

2:52pm today