Cautious welcome as Chancellor pledges long-awaited millions for Leeds flood defences

DECEMBER 2015:  Cars under floodwater in Kirkstall. PIC: Tony Johnson

DECEMBER 2015: Cars under floodwater in Kirkstall. PIC: Tony Johnson

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MILLIONS of pounds will be spent on flood defences in Leeds to try to make sure the city is ready when storms batter the region once again.

George Osborne has announced £150m extra for Yorkshire and Cumbria to build flood defences, which will be funded by increasing insurance premium tax for rate payers by 0.5 per cent.

Leader of Leeds City Council, Judith Blake.

Leader of Leeds City Council, Judith Blake.

The revenue raising measure announced in the Budget will eventually bring in £690m for national flood defence and resilience spending by 2020.

Of the £150m specifically for Yorkshire and Cumbria, £35m will to go towards the £65m cost of Phase 2 of the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme to protect 500 homes and businesses upstream from the city’s train station.

The council will not be asked to contribute and the final tranche of money to complete the project may come in another funding round.

The Chancellor has also committed to Phase 3 of the project that would build defences at Allerton Bywater.

However questions have been raised over whether the money will be enough, considering an earlier defence scheme proposed for the River Aire in 2011, was originally forecast to cost £180m.

Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves. who meet Environment Secretary Liz Truss earlier this year to try and get the larger defence plan off the ground, said: “The people of Kirkstall and Leeds aren’t going to be fooled by headline numbers on budget day.

“What they want is to know their homes and their businesses are going to be protected from the sort of flood we saw on Boxing Day. We need reassurance from Ministers that Leeds will get the flood defences we desperately need.”

A statement from the Treasury said the £35m would help the scheme to make ‘substantial progress’ but it might not now be finished until the early 2020s.

And further complications arise over the fact Phase 2 and 3 are currently subject to a £3m feasibility study – the results of which are not due for at least 18 months.

Councillor Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds City Council, said: “I’m pleased the Government appears to have listened to demands for a Leeds flood defence scheme.

“However there are still many unanswered questions, not least when will it be delivered? Leeds residents and businesses will want a firm time frame putting in place as soon as possible, especially as the current lack of certainty is seeing companies close and leading to the loss of jobs.

“There are also questions about how the initial £150m for Leeds, York, Calder Valley, Carlisle and Cumbria will be allocated. This figure contrasts with the £297m previously invested in the Thames Valley area alone, and the original estimate of £180m for the previously cancelled 2011 Leeds scheme.”