Oxford City Council

PO Box 10, Oxford, OX1 1EN
Tel 01865 249811
Web http://www.oxford.gov.uk/


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Flooding in Oxford

Support for businesses and homeowners affected by flooding 1 April 2013 - 31 March 2014

The Deadline for receiving applications for Flooding Reliefs has now closed. There is, however, useful information on Flooding on these pages which you may find of use.


Am I at risk of flooding?

Visit the Environment Agency website for full details and for a flood risk map.

When a flood happens

What to do before, during and after

Environment Agency advice 

How the Council responds to a flood, with others

In Oxford, river floods tend to develop slowly and the Environment Agency gives more than a day's warning as floods approach Oxford. Once alerted, City Council staff monitor critical levels several times a day in order to track the rate of rise and decide whether and when to deploy temporary defences. 

Each flood is different, so decisions have to take into account what's happening elsewhere in Oxford and whether to respond sooner or later to work in daylight or keep costs down. This means that some defences might seem to be put out too soon, only just in time, or perhaps not at all if only a limited rise is expected.

Under flood response conditions, City Council staff on standby monitor flooding in all critical areas and maintain contact with other organisations such as the Environment Agency, Police, and Fire and Rescue.

In small floods (and the early stages of larger ones) the City Council deploys defences at critical points and then keeps continuous staff cover there. Those points become "Bronze Commands" which keep supervisors up to date with changes. If floods (or other emergencies) get worse, the Council participates in a "Silver Command" arrangement which the Police use to co-ordinate responses over a wider area. In very serious emergencies the Police establish a "Gold Command" to co-ordinate several "Silver" areas and in extreme events co-ordination is undertaken nationally.

Flood response plans

Oxford Area Flood Partnership provides guides to Flood Response Plans for flood risk areas in Oxford.

We will update these and add more guides over time.

Guide area covered For screen reading Printable A5 booklet
West Oxford/New Botley PDF icon Flood Response Plan - page order (PDF) PDF icon Flood Response Plan - booklet (PDF)
South Oxford PDF icon Flood Response Plan - page order (PDF) PDF icon Flood Response Plan - booklet (PDF)


Report a flood

Report It iconReport flooding or potential flood risk online

You can also call the Council on 01865 249811.

If you think your property or garden has been flooded by sewage, please ensure you report this to Thames Water by calling 0845 9200 800.


Flood prevention and protection in Oxford

What does the City Council do?

Oxford Area Flood Partnership (OAFP) 

The City Council arranges and chairs quarterly meetings of OAFP, through which flood management projects are co-ordinated between the six partners.

Members of the public and representatives of several flood-interest groups attend these meetings and we hold a Public Forum in October each year.

For more, see our OAFP pages

Managing ditches and streams 

Oxford City Council maintains watercourses where it has 'riparian responsibility' from adjacent land ownership. The work includes clearing vegetation from banks, removing silt from channels and keeping grills clear where watercourses enter culverts.

We can also ensure that similar work is done by other landowners or charges the owners for the work when acting as agent for the Lead Local Flood Authority (LLFA), which is Oxfordshire County Council.

Investigating floods and recording flood assets 

We investigate flood events and record useful flood defence features in Oxford then send reports to the LLFA for the Oxfordshire flooding database.

Flood protection schemes 

We look for and assess possible flood defence schemes, seek funding opportunities and apply for grants and implement schemes as resources allow. We carry out many schemes with Oxford Area Flood Partnership partners, whom are listed on the OAFP pages  

What you can do  

Help yourself:

Stay up-to-date with flood insurance changes:

Help us to help you:

Small floods, especially 'flash floods', can come and go quickly. We need your photos and other records to help investigate incidents and apply for funding.

  • Provide historic records

If a flood occurs, please search out your old photos and records of it and let us have copies. Evidence of repeated flooding helps secure grants.

Why floods happen in Oxford 

Most floods are due to extreme rainfall exceeding available drainage capacity – whether this is rivers, streams, ground or pipes. Water main bursts can also cause temporary local flooding.

River floods 

In Oxford the river catchment area of the Thames and Cherwell is so large that floods take days to develop. Because of this the Environment Agency can give more than 24 hours warning. However, a full catchment area can take weeks to drain, so that rivers can take days to reduce to normal levels.

Rivers have developed floodplains naturally, to take flood overflow. Where that flow is obstructed by development the water will flood roads, railways, houses and businesses. Foul and surface water sewers are also occasionally flooded. 

These floods tend to occur when widespread storms follow long periods of wet weather, when the ground is already fully saturated.

Advance warnings often allow people to install suitable defences.

Surface water floods 

Only general warnings are possible for the more rapid and localised 'flash floods' which can occur during thunderstorms. Intense rainfall can then exceed the capacity of drains in flat areas, leaving roads temporarily flooded without affecting houses.

However, intense rainfall on hills, such as Headington, can cause run-off to accumulate as more much more serious flooding in low spots. Defence against such flooding has to be permanent.


True groundwater flooding (due to persistent underground flow over long distances) does not occur in Oxford. However, water moves through gravel layers beneath the flood plain and, when rivers flood, water does flood houses from below.

Vulnerable houses ideally need solid floors to prevent such flooding. Sump pumps have a role in minor floods, but are unlikely to protect against more serious floods.

Sewer floods

Oxford has two sewer systems: surface water and foul. The surface water system takes roof and road drainage for discharge directly to rivers or streams. These sewers can stop working when outfalls are flooded. The foul system takes domestic and commercial sewage to pumping stations for discharge to Sandford sewage treatment works. However, countless old connections from roofs make the system very responsive to rainfall. 

Sewer floods can result directly from intense rainfall, or by inundation from other floods, when water gets in through kitchen gullies or yard drains.  Floods can also result from blockage or pump failure, which are reduced by maintenance.  

In each case overflows occur from a low point in the system, which can be a manhole in the road, an inspection chamber in a garden or a ground floor toilet or shower tray. It is possible to fit non-return valves to prevent this flooding houses inside.

Burst water mains 

These tend to occur without warning, but Thames Water can quickly shut off water mains for repair once informed.


Clearing up after a flood

Floodwater affecting your home may have been contaminated with sewage, animal waste and other contaminants which may leave a sludge deposit.

Harmful bacteria is present in sewage and may be present in clear flood water, which although it is very dilute can present a low risk to health.

There are a few steps that you can take when you are dealing with flooding which are contained on our Clearing up households and businesses page.

The Council provides Essential Repairs Grants and Flexible Homes Improvement Loans which you can find out about on our Oxford Home Improvement Agency page.

Who is responsible for flood prevention and response in Oxford?

Environment Agency Main rivers - flow; navigation; flood modelling and mapping; flood warning system; publications; Oxford Area Flood Management Strategy; responsibility as landowners for maintaining banks adjoining waterways.
Oxfordshire County Council Lead Local Flood Authority (LLFA) Oxfordshire flood strategy.
Oxford City Council Agent for LLFA. Streams and ditches; rainfall run-off; groundwater; responsibility as landowners for maintaining banks adjoining waterways.
Thames Water Surface water sewers; foul water sewers and mains; water main bursts.


Other useful contacts

Oxford Area Flood Partnership (OAFP) Meeting calendar, Agenda, Minutes, projects completed in Oxford
Flood Update Publication containing Oxford Area Flood information
School Closures - Oxfordshire County Council School closure details during serious floods
Flooding Advice for Businesses - Oxfordshire County Council Advice for businesses
Allotments Food from flooded allotments
Regional Flood and Coastal Committee (RFCC) Regional prioritisation of flood schemes; Local Levy funding
Defra National picture, Insurance advice
National Flood Forum Blue book, Insurance advice
Association of British Insurers Insurance advice, Flood defence costs
Oxford Flood Alliance Community support, Pressure group




Page last updated 29 May 2015

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