THE question of how to tackle flooding is a thorny one. But most people seem to agree that building more houses doesn’t make the situation better. However, this is something that goes against Oxfordshire’s pressing need for new homes. Damian Fantato looks into how homes can be built without making matters worse SWALES, attenuation ponds and SUDS might sound like bizarre and unfamiliar words, but experts say they are the future of keeping our houses dry.

And from the autumn, Oxfordshire County Council will be able to put its foot down and insist that new developments of 10 homes or more include features known as sustainable drainage systems (SUDS).

It is all part of the county council’s flood risk strategy, which it has had to put together following the passage of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010.

Banbury Cake:

  • A cyclist contends with a flooded Botley Road in January

Banbury Cake:

  • A man wades through the deluge on Abingdon Road during the first month of the year

The county council’s strategy says it wants to encourage the use of SUDS and from October it will be able to put large developments on hold if it is not happy with the drainage proposals.

SUDS are natural ways of preventing water from just running off asphalt into a nearby river and instead holding it at the site where it can either evaporate or be absorbed into the ground.

In January both Botley and Abingdon roads were closed for days after flooding hit Oxfordshire.

And in March a flood summit was held in Oxford – attended by bodies such as the county council, Oxford City Council, Network Rail and the Environment Agency – to try to attract investment to solve the problem of flooding.

Deputy county council leader Rodney Rose has spent the past few months arguing the case for the £125m Western Conveyance relief channel which will carry flood water around Oxford and could keep Botley and Abingdon roads open.

But he says smaller scale schemes – such as artificial ponds to hold water near new developments – can also play an important role.

He said: “The flooding summit saw all the major local organisations sign up to the principle of pressing for a major flood relief project in Oxfordshire – the Western Conveyance. It was a huge step in the right direction.

“The Western Conveyance would be very welcome, however combating flooding is not just about major projects.

“It is also about what can be done at a community level, what we can do to influence new development to make sure it doesn’t cause more flooding, encouraging landowners to engage more and become more involved, and earlier, better working with utility companies.”

He added: “The county council’s cabinet will be asked to approve a strategy that will lead to a lot of hard work ahead, with the county council co-ordinating work across many agencies and localities to improve Oxfordshire’s resilience to flooding over coming years.

“This year’s flooding summit proved there is a willingness for everybody to pull in the same direction when it comes to flooding issues and the new strategy, if approved, will provide a good framework for that to happen.”

From October, district councils such as Oxford City Council – when making decisions on planning applications like proposals for new homes – will abide by new rules aimed at tackling flood risk.

If plans are for 10 homes or more, developers will not be able to start building until the county council has given its approval to the drainage proposals.

According to a recent study called a strategic housing market assessment commissioned by Oxfordshire’s councils, the county has to build around 100,000 homes by 2031. But the more bricks you pile up on open fields, the harder it will be for the water to soak into the ground rather than run into rivers.

Oxford Flood Alliance’s Peter Rawcliffe, pictured below, said: “Houses can obstruct the flow of flood water and they occupy land which would otherwise be able to take flood water but cannot with a house on it.

“Features like swales can prevent flash flooding by holding water back in a more natural way.”

And this is why more and more of us are going to live near swales – or ditches to hold excess water – and attenuation ponds, man-made ponds that hold flood water.

Environment Agency area operations manager for Oxfordshire, Barry Russell, said: “I see SUDS as an essential part of providing flood risk reduction from any new development.

“Attenuation, where water is held at source, is a good way of providing surface water run-off.

“This very much is the future for developments and I think it has clear advantages for the developers themselves because it creates green spaces people can seek out and helps with biodiversity.”

What are SUDS? 

Sustainable drainage systems (SUDS) are a relatively new technique for managing excess water in developed areas.

The service station on the M40 at Wheatley – built in 1998 – was one of the first developments in the UK to include a complete SUDS.

The idea behind SUDS is to recreate a natural way in which water can be stored and allowed to flow away gradually.

Features of SUDS include swales, shallow ditches to manage water; soakaways, underground structures that dispose of surface water by dissipating it into the ground; and attenuation ponds, which store water allowing it to soak into the ground or evaporate.

It can also include permeable paving, which is paving with small gaps in it to allow water to run through a sandbase and membrane to a rock-filled storage area underground.

Banbury Cake:

  • TACTICS: Barry Russell, front left, and Owen Paterson, Secretary of State for the Environment, front right, discuss flood defences set up by the Environment Agency on Osney Island in January


Oxfordshire County Council’s strategy aims to: s Encourage sustainable drainage systems (SUDS) to drain new developments and approve development only where flood risk is low. Sustainable drainage systems are designed to reduce the potential downstream impact of new and existing developments for surface water. These SUDS designs are being constructed as part of new developments in South West Bicester, Great Western Park near Didcot, Hanwell Fields, Banbury and Jubilee Way in Witney.

Encourage self-help and understanding of flooding issues among people who own land which meets a stream or river, particularly knowledge of the law.

Use information from past flood events when working with other organisations to decide on which schemes should be built and how money should be best spent on these schemes designed to prevent flooding.

Encourage individual parishes to have their own plans relating to flooding and tackling any concerns around volunteers undertaking tasks such as clearing ditches.

As the lead local flood authority, the county council says it will actively encourage flood groups to investigate land drainage issues with potential financial support from the council for equipment to combat these problems.