Demands have been made for action to prevent a repeat of the devastating floods in Leeds after a £50million fund to help those affected was branded a “sticking plaster”.
Communities Secretary Greg Clark was in the city today to talk to Leeds City Council and traders about the impact of the Boxing Day disaster, which hit 2,000 homes and 400 businesses in Leeds alone and thousands more across Yorkshire.
He said £50million – matching a package provided for flood-hit communities in Cumbria – would be available to councils across Yorkshire to help people get back on their feet.
Seb McGowan, owner of Viva Cuba restaurant on Kirkstall Road, was one of those who talked to Mr Clark about his losses.
He said financial help was needed urgently, adding: “If it comes in six months time it’s not that helpful to a business that’s got bills coming in every day.
“It’s a sticking plaster but we really need to know why this has happened and, once we know, then money needs to be put towards stopping it from happening again.”
Julie Lingard, who runs a clothing business called AQAQ, saw around £1million of stock ruined at a warehouse on Kirkstall Industrial Park.
She said: “The sense I get is people feel like a lot more could have been done to stop this from happening. We were flooded as a business, but there were people who were flooded out of their homes. It’s people like that who I feel for.”
Azram Chadhry, who owns the Sheesh Mahal restaurant on Kirkstall Road, said: “The biggest problem is that we don’t know if our insurance will cover the extent of the damage. We desperately need the government’s help.”
Council chief executive Tom Riordan said a £180million flood defence scheme for Leeds which was dropped by the government in 2011 would have mitigated the impact of Saturday’s floods.
He said: “There needs to be a serious look at how flooding is dealt with in this country and how the North is perceived relative to the South because if we’d had something like the flood barrier in the Thames this wouldn’t have happened.
“We were turned down because we weren’t perceived to be as important economically – and we are.”
He said people affected were facing “weeks, months and potentially even years of misery economically” but said he had been inspired by the response of people of Leeds in the past few days.
“It’s one of those times when the city shows it’s got an x-factor and everyone mucks in and cares about each other,” he said.
Mr Clark denied claims of a North-South divide on the issue of flooding, adding: “The way the flood defences are assessed is on scientific advice as to where the risk is greatest. It’s clear that the modelling did not predict what happened both here in Leeds and across the country.
“We need to go back to the drawing board and look at that modelling.
“One of the things I’m absolutely committed to seeing is Leeds regaining the reputation it has had over many years. It has real momentum behind it. This is a blow, but I will work hand in glove with the council in Leeds and my colleagues in government to make sure this will never happen again.”
He said the £50million recovery fund would be given to councils to repair houses and businesses in the coming days and to help householders improve flood protection measures in future.
“No-one could fail to be moved by the scenes of devastation left in the wake of storm Eva – we’re determined to ensure all those affected get the support they need quickly,” he said.
Coun Judith Blake, Leeds City Council’s leader, welcomed the announcement but added: “Our resounding message continues to be that Leeds urgently needs further significant investment to ensure that we have the best possible comprehensive flood defences in place – defences appropriate for the size and importance of this city.
“We are yet to receive formal details about how this funding will be managed, and will continue to assess the impact and scale of need on affected residents and businesses.
“We will be convening a joint task group to make a full assessment of further support required as they seek to rebuild. We are also in close contact with other local authorities in the region and will be working with them to ensure that we support one another in the aftermath of this and any further events.
“We are prepared for the bad weather forecast over the next 24 hours and have made appropriate arrangements across the city.
“I would like to thank everyone again for their continuing efforts in dealing with this emergency, and also to praise the sense of community spirit from all those people who have helped. This really has reinforced my sense of pride in our great city.”