HOMES in Oxford are better protected against flooding than they were five years ago thanks to new multi-million pound flood defences, campaigners say.
The unprecedented floods of July 2007 – which hit five years ago today – left large parts of Oxfordshire underwater.
Five years on, Met Office figures from RAF Benson show there has been more rainfall in the county between April and July this year, compared to the same period then – a total of 362.4mm this year compared to 309.8mm in 2007.
But residents this year have escaped flooding, and Oxford Flood Alliance spokesman Dr Peter Rawcliffe said defence measures built by the Environment Agency slashed the risk.
They include a £1.8m scheme in 2008 to ease pinchpoints in watercourses at Redbridge, and provide flood barriers for Osney Island and South Oxford.
Dr Rawcliffe, whose home in South Hinksey has flooded on a number of occasions, said: “In recent years the Environment Agency has spent about £2.5m on flood defences for Oxford.
“The city was subjected to intense rain over several days in July 2007, and that led to the flooding.
“We may have had more rain in total so far this year, but the concentration of rainfall has been different, so it is difficult to make a direct comparison.
“However, I would like to think that homes are now better protected than they were five years ago and that fewer homes would be flooded by the same rainfall conditions.”
Met Office spokesman Dan Williams said: “If you have a large amount of rain in a 24-hour period then you can get flooding.
“April to June this year has been the wettest in the UK on record, dating back to 1910.
“July has also been very wet, and with 10 days to go it’s possible that the total rainfall for July 2007 of 95.6mm could be matched by the July 2012 total.”
So far this month the total is 73.4mm.
In 2007, the Oxford Mail reported how communities listened to weather warnings and braced themselves for the damage which would follow.
June had been one of the wettest months on record in Britain, with 140mm of rain.
In the years since 2007, the Government has spent millions on flood defences but experts continue to warn of more flooding.
Earlier this month the Environment Agency issued Amber Flood Alerts for parts of the county and emergency services have dealt with dozens of flash flooding calls.
TIMELINE: HOW FLOODS HIT IN 2007
- July 20: Rainfall peaks as an active frontal system dumps more than 120mm of rain on southern England. Many rivers burst their banks, including the Thames and the Cherwell in Oxford, the Ock in Abingdon and the Windrush and Evenlode in Witney.
- July 21: Banbury and Witney flood. Oxford, particularly Botley, is also under water and some 300 people are evacuated.
- July 22: The Environment Agency warns of further flooding and 1,500 people in Abingdon are evacuated. Forty thousand sandbags come from Lincolnshire to Abingdon and Oxford in a bid to stem the fast flowing water.
- July 23: Oxford, Abingdon, Kidlington and Bladon affected; 3,000 homes are awash and 600 residents are evacuated, with many taking refuge at Oxford United Football Club’s Kassam Stadium.
- July 24: The Thames in Abingdon rises three feet in less than 12 hours to a “perilously high” level.
- July 25: Residents of Osney in West Oxford are advised to leave their homes because a 3ft tidal surge is expected. This does not materialise, but about 30 people go to the Kassam Stadium while another 250 stay with family and friends.
CASE STUDY: FAMILY CELEBRATED AS WATERS ROSE
Ag MacKeith celebrated her 61st birthday at The Fishes pub in North Hinksey in 2007, as water settled 10 inches deep in her home a few hundred yards up the road in Old Botley.
She said: “We had intended to have a birthday supper there, and the cake had already been made in the morning, but by the afternoon it was clear we would be sitting round the table as the water crept up our wellies.
"We decamped to The Fishes in a friend’s truck. When we came back later we found a Sky TV crew wading about in the garden, and, hilarious as it later seemed, we ended up on TV and in papers around the world.
“They filmed us as we set to work putting the furniture up on pallets and then there was nothing else we could do but toast my birthday in the flooded kitchen with a bottle of Calvados.”
When the water subsided, Mrs Mackeith and her family surveyed £35,000 of damage.
She said: “It took a year to fix and we’ve put in some measures for the next time it happens – like lime plaster, which is porous.
“It was a difficult time but also one when neighbours came together and life slowed down to a walking pace for a while.”