Call to revive Leeds defence scheme to prevent more flood tragedy

DECEMBER 2015: Flooding on Kirkstall Road.

DECEMBER 2015: Flooding on Kirkstall Road.

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GOVERNMENT ministers were today urged to resurrect shelved plans for a defence scheme that could have spared communities in Leeds from the ravages of the weekend’s floods.

Proposals for a £190m project that would have protected homes and businesses along a 12-mile stretch of the Aire from Kirkstall to Woodlesford were axed by Whitehall in 2011 on cost grounds.

Floods minister Richard Benyon at the time likened the flood wall scheme to “a Rolls-Royce, where a reasonably priced family car might serve some of the purpose”.

Labour MP Rachel Reeves, whose Leeds West constituency includes the flood-hit area of Kirkstall, today told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “We need to go back to the drawing board and make sure 
that we are properly protectedin the future. That’s the key.”

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In a letter to Communities Secretary Greg Clark seen by the YEP, Ms Reeves also says: “The Government should, as a matter of urgency, revive plans that were previously scrapped to build stronger flood defences to ensure that a tragedy like this is not allowed to happen again.”

Plans for the defence scheme were unveiled in 2009 after a string of flooding incidents in Leeds.

At the time, the Environment Agency warned that a major flood could affect thousands of city properties and shut key routes such as Kirkstall Road – a prediction borne out by the unhapp events of Boxing Day.

The project was branded “hugely expensive” by Mr Benyon when it was put on hold two years later.

A revised £50m scheme utilising innovative moveable weirs got the green light in 2013.

Due for completion in 2017, it will only cover a two-mile stretch of the Aire running south-east from the centre of Leeds to Thwaite Mills, 
with additional defences in Woodlesford.

The project’s blueprint does include scope for an extension westwards to Kirkstall but funding for that element – which would mean protection for a similarly-sized swathe of the city to the shelved 2009 plans – has yet to be secured.

More than 2,000 homes – including 1,000 in Leeds – were caught up in the weekend’s flooding, the worst seen in West Yorkshire for decades.

Kirkstall Road was just 
one of a string of key local routes forced to close during the chaos.