EVERY time the rain pours and flood warnings flash up, residents of Cassington Mill hold their breath.

Neighbours of the Evenlode river in West Oxfordshire say the levels are getting higher, and they fear for the safety of their homes.

Roy Partridge, an 87-year-old former fitter, lives at the Mill House, and claims their situation is the result of years of inaction on the part of the Environment Agency.

He said: “We will have been here 53 years in June, and when we first came here it was the responsibility of the Thames Conservancy, but now the Environment Agency will not dredge the river.

“Our back mill pond is over half full of rubbish, with willow trees a foot in diameter growing out of it.”

He said landowners nearby have been told it was their responsibility to dredge the river as it runs through their land, but said it should not be their responsibility.

He said: “Why should the riverbank owners pay to put the rivers right, after successive organisations have let them get into such a mess?”

Barry Russell, from the Environment Agency, said the organisation prioritised large-scale flood alleviation schemes, like the one in Banbury, over costly dredging.

He said: “Undertaking dredging on a long-term basis is a very expensive operation to do.

“In years gone by the budget and manpower we had was very different, and we didn’t have the same understanding of flood risks.”

Mr Russell said the EA had carried out an investigation across the UK, including at three sites in Oxfordshire, which revealed only short-term benefits of dredging.

He said: “It’s far more cost-effective for us to invest in physical assets.”

He added that Cassington wasn’t near the top of the EA’s priority list for flood-prone areas.

In Banbury, residents breathed a sigh of relief after multi-million-pound flood defences protected their homes after heavy rainfall in December.

The £14m project was built in order to protect around 500 homes after they were badly flooded in the summer of 2007.