Leeds floods one year on: Sorrows recalled in heart of the city centre

Manager Colin Deakin at Aire Bar.
Manager Colin Deakin at Aire Bar.
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The devastating downpours that began while the city was celebrating Christmas festivities on Boxing Day in 2015 led to floods that drove hundreds of people from their homes.

Flooding affected different parts of the city from the peaceful town of Otley to the bustling commuter route of Kirkstall Road as water levels rose and rivers overflowed.

DECEMBER 27, 2015: Workmen try to clear flooded Wellington Street, Leeds.

DECEMBER 27, 2015: Workmen try to clear flooded Wellington Street, Leeds.

And, in the second of a series of coverage to mark the anniversary of the day the River Aire burst its banks, the YEP is looking at how the deluge affected Leeds city centre.

As shops, restaurants and bars prepared for a till-ringing bonanza on Boxing Day last year, the first warning signs and ripples of the devastation to come could be seen at Leeds City Station.

Trains between the city, Skipton, Ilkley and across the region were gradually cancelled 
before the Environment Agency issued a red warning – its highest alert.

Parts of the city centre, including Sovereign Street, The Calls and Clarence Dock, felt the full force of the downpour as the evening wore on.

Meanwhile, nestled aside the River Aire as it overflowed, staff at Aire Bar braced themselves when floodwater burst through the basement.

“We were still on site at the time when the flooding started,” bar owner Chris Howard told the YEP.

“Looking back it was foolish because all the power was on while it was flooded.

“We left when the water came up to chest-height.

“The basement area was completely flooded.”

After weeks of frantic clean-ups, building work and thousands of pounds spent on refurbishment, the popular cellar bar reopened in February.

And despite looking almost exactly the same inside as it did before the damage, subtle signs of the flooding that wreaked havoc on the business still remain.

“Some parts of the building are still kind of recovering from the damage,” said Mr Howard, who runs the business with wife Louise and trusted bar manager Colin Deakin.

“It was the aftermath when it really hit us, when we sat back and thought about what had happened and the financial impact.

“We knew there was going to be a serious shortfall in money because of the closure and the cost of repairs.

“When you come in now, it looks like it did before the flooding but it has been completely re-done. The electrics, air-conditioning, everything looks the same but it has all been replaced.

“Touch wood, we are now flood-proof.”

The River Aire at Leeds Crown Point, which is usually 0.9 metres high, rose to 2.95 metres at 1am. Its previous high was 2.45 metres, recorded in June 2007. Other areas affected in the city centre as the flooding continued included Neptune Street, Asda House, Canal Wharf and the Brewery.

The agency said its severe alert warning was due to “significant impacts to infrastructure and risk to life in the area”.

While no-one expected the water to rise as high, Mr Howard said that the kind-hearted reaction and loyalty of customers and residents living in the area also came as a shock.

He said: “We have been supported really well by the local community here, which was amazing for a city centre street – for people to come together when we were closed and bring us sandwiches.

“There are a hell of a lot of new bars, and there’s the new Trinity Leeds shopping centre, so we thought we were kind of the ‘forgotten cellar bar’. But when this happened, we saw how important we are because of the community coming to us saying ‘we’re glad you are open again’.”