CLEARING ditches, dredging rivers and pumping cash into river engineering work should all be prioritised, according to residents in Oxfordshire’s worst flood affected areas.

Environment Minister Richard Benyon has urged Oxfordshire residents to come up with their own proposals to help protect their communities from future flooding.

A £5m UK pilot fund for communities devastated by flooding or for those who are at risk was launched by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on Sunday.

Mr Benyon says residents with ideas should approach their local authorities so funding bids can be submitted.

Among those caught up in the floods in November and just before Christmas was Paul Winters, 50, of Kidlington Caravans in Cassington.

Mr Winters had his workshop ruined by the floods in November despite his repeated pleas to clear ditches in the area.

He said: “All the agencies will blame each other, but the ditches need clearing out. It hasn’t been done for at least 10 years, and it gets worse every time. They are so badly silted up, the council needs to look here if it is going to spend money.”

Chris Hill, 66, of Bridge End, Dorchester, is in charge of preparing the village’s emergency plan. He said the Thames tributary, the River Thame, caused repeated headaches.

He believes money should be ploughed into dredging the river, of which several stretches have been on flood warnings since November.

He said: “Clearing that area is something the Environment Agency had talked about.

“Clear away whatever you have growing under there and you stop paths flooding and provide a much more efficient flow of river. It would cut down on so many problems.

“It is all well and good building in the area, but there still needs to be somewhere for the water to go.”

Deputy leader of Oxfordshire County Council Rodney Rose has already lobbied for a series of Oxfordshire measures to be fast-tracked.

He said the recent repeat of November’s miserable scenes highlighted the urgency of some projects.

The Thames Regional Flood and Coastal Committee controls how defence cash is spent across the region and last month Mr Rose held talks with chairman Amanda Nobbs over a separate, £120m Government pot for flood schemes.

The Northway and Marston Flood Alleviation Scheme, as well as projects near Botley Road, in Oxford, and Islip, near Kidlington, could be in with a chance.

Mr Rose said: “I put forward the case that Oxfordshire needs a bigger slice of the pie because with more voting members in London and more people to protect that seems to be where much of the money would ordinarily go.

“I still have to protect Oxfordshire, and the flooding has brought home how urgent it is.

“We have to be realistic in what we can achieve, but talks were positive.”