BUSINESS leaders have warned George Osborne that Leeds could struggle to attract new firms and jobs unless the Government invests in better flood defences in the city.
In a stark letter to the Chancellor, the president of the Leeds Chamber of Commerce described the failure to spend on flood defences as a “false economy” which could harm the city’s ability to prosper.
Gerald Jennings said some firms had already gone out of business and companies would be reluctant to invest if they fear a repeat of the floods which struck the city with devastating effect on Boxing Day.
The letter says: “As the engine room of the Yorkshire economy Leeds already plays a major role in driving forward economic prosperity; we have seen significant private sector investment over the last 25 years.
“The city has created jobs in large numbers as a consequence, which have benefited the entire Leeds City Region.
“Without further investment in flood defences, businesses may be forced to reconsider their own investment plans and the ability to attract new investment will be curtailed.
“As a city we must create the environment to ensure economic growth continues, this can only happen if business has the confidence to invest and create jobs.”
The letter calls for measures to reduce the likelihood of flooding in the Kirkstall area of the city and along the stretch of the River Aire from Hunslet to Stourton.
Mr Jennings also asks for Government help to relocate and rebuild companies’ flood-hit premises to minimise the risk of job losses.
A comprehensive flood defence scheme to protect Leeds was tabled five years ago costing £180 million but it did not receive Government funding and a more modest proposal, part-financed by Leeds City Council, was approved and work is currently underway.
In the wake of the floods, the council asked for £3 million to develop the case for extending the current scheme but the Government has so far failed to agree to finance the work.
Environment Secretary Liz Truss has also indicated that the spending plans for flood defences across the country are set until 2022 making any upgrade for Leeds unlikely before then.
However she has promised the Environment Agency will carry out preliminary work looking at the case for further protection measures on the River Aire.
MPs will discuss the issue of Leeds flood defences in the Commons later today.
Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves, whose constituency includes much of the area flooded on Boxing Day, has secured the debate.