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Broken promise over Leeds flood plan, say politicians

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The Government has rejected a flood prevention plan designed for Leeds, instead offering a proposal which politicians say would not have been able to prevent the devastating Boxing Day deluge of 2015.

In a letter to Leeds City Council chiefs last week, the Environment Agency put forward an alternative proposal for Phase Two of the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme, – which falls £47m shorter than what is needed, according to Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves.

PIC: SWNS

PIC: SWNS

The decision comes following assurances from the former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Elizabeth Truss, who said that Leeds would receive the “right level of protection”, adding that Yorkshire would have one of the “most resilient flood defence programmes in the country”.

Storm Eva flooding, which began on December 26, 2015, caused £36.8m of damage in Leeds.

Ms Reeves, of Labour, said the new plan provides less than half of the protection offered by the council’s own proposals.

She said: “The Government have broken their promise to the people of Leeds.

“The announcement will do nothing to reassure those affected by the catastrophic 2015 floods that their property and livelihoods are secure. It is a kick in the teeth to residents and businesses in Kirkstall who were promised ‘the right level of flood protection’ by the government only two years ago.

“Ministers, who said they were ‘fully committed’ to ensuring Leeds was properly protected from flooding, have failed to keep their word.”

Leader of Leeds City Council, Coun Judith Blake, said: “What they are offering would not have proved effective at Christmas 2015 so we are demanding answers as to why they are shortchanging our city and communities like this, when both the former Prime Minister and Secretary of State assured us that whatever needed to be done would be done to give the best possible protection that Leeds needs.”

The Phase Two plans had a strong focus on Natural Flood Management, with the creation of woodland areas more than doubling canopy coverage in the River Aire catchment.

The £50m Phase One of the flood alleviation scheme was completed in October 2017.

The proposed scheme offers only a one-in-75-year level of protection, whereas Ms Reeves and the council believe there is a higher probability than that of major flood conditions re-occurring.

Ms Reeves said alternative measures fall £47m short of that needed to fund defences to provide one-in-200-year relief.

The council’s preferred option for Phase Two would have provided increased protection to communities upstream of the city centre, notably in Kirkstall, reducing the risk of serious flood damage to just 0.5 per cent a year while also encouraging investment and creating more than 1,600 jobs, according to Ms Reeves.

Ahead of the Boxing Day floods, heavy rainfall led to record-breaking levels in the River Aire, which reached a peak height of 5.2m on December 27. The typical level is 1.5m. There have been four “significant” flood events in Leeds since 2000, Ms Reeves said.

A Defra spokesman said: “Our commitment to provide flood protection to Leeds remains unchanged. We have spent £33million already and have a further £65million committed.

“The council have proposed further work and the Environment Agency are in discussions with them to ensure any additional expenditure represents value for money.”