THE replacement of a rail bridge in Oxford is expected to delay the city’s £150m flood channel, it has emerged.
Earlier this month the county council said it needed to replace the Kennington rail bridge, which carries the A423, because bearings that support it have worn away and there is no cost-effective way of replacing them.
The £40m work is unlikely to start until 2021 and designs for what will replace the worn-out structure have yet to be completed, with construction expected to cause two years of disruption once it starts.
Now managers of the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme, led by the Environment Agency, have written to landowners and other interested parties to warn them that the bridge replacement is an ‘unforeseen issue’ that needs to be resolved before a date for a public inquiry is set.
The inquiry will deal with compulsory purchase orders of land required for the scheme.
Michael Thorne, estates representative of the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme, said in the letter: "The county council has found that the A423 rail bridge needs replacing, during their planned pre-inspection for maintenance work to replace the bearings on the bridge.
"The proposed culverts forming part of the scheme cannot be installed through the road embankment until this issue has been resolved.
“The Environment Agency is confident it can resolve the issue and is working with the council to agree a solution to this.”
Dr Peter Rawcliffe, of Oxford Flood Alliance, said the bridge work would delay the scheme. He said: “There is bound to be a delay but how long it lasts will depend on the results of engineers' investigations. Perhaps it would be possible to strengthen the bridge first, then put the culverts through and rebuild the bridge at a later date. The Kennington end is the natural starting point for the scheme but digging channels and building bunds could start elsewhere.”
Oxfordshire County Councilspokesman John Carter said: “The council has not yet set a date for the planning application to be heard. Work on the bridge will not commence for at least two years due to the complex constraints of the site. The bridge construction is expected to last for two years.We will continue to work with our partners on the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme to ensure the effective delivery of the scheme in its totality.”
Last month the city and Oxfordshire county councils made formal objections to plans for the biggest ever project to stop flooding in the city. The authorities, along with the Midcounties Co-op, have objected to the Environment Agency’s plan to compulsorily buy their land for the flood scheme.
They are among a host of landowners along the proposed route of the 5km channel from Botley Road to Kennington now fighting the CPOs. Both councils support the flood scheme but have made ‘technical’ objections to the way the EA is trying to use government powers to buy their land. Other statutory objections to the CPOs, which will have to be dealt with at a public inquiry, come from Network Rail, Oxford Preservation Trust and University College.
The Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme is designed to reduce the risk of a major flood, the size of which Oxford has not experienced since 1947.
In January the Hinksey and Osney Environment Group – which opposes the Environment Agency scheme outright – put forward an alternative project which it claims would be much cheaper, costing about £100m.
Construction work on the scheme was originally due to start this year.
A public inquiry - largely about CPOs - is to be held after the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) intervened to confirm it would be staging one. Earlier this year it said construction work would not be able to start until 2020 at the earliest and the scheme is expected to take three to four years to complete.
Joanne Emberson Wines, Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme project director, said: "The Environment Agency is committed to helping better protect people, properties, roads and railways around Oxford from flooding.
“We are working closely with Oxfordshire County Council, our partner on the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme, to determine the best way to coordinate the work needed to the bridge with the construction of the scheme.”
It is understood that Defra will set a date for the CPO public inquiry once the EA has determined how the bridge repairs will be coordinated with the construction of the flood scheme.