City leaders issue urgent plea for flooding cash to 'give Leeds protection it deserves'

City leaders have issued a last-ditch plea to the Government for cash in next month's Budget to pay for vital flood defence work and protect homes and businesses in Leeds.

By Joanna Wardill
Wednesday, 26th February 2020, 6:00 am

With the city being brought to the brink of flooding after an onslaught of storms and heavy rainfall over the last couple of weeks - and with more rain on the way - politicians have joined forces to urge the new Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, to deliver where his predecessors have failed.

The city has made repeated calls for cash to plug the £23m funding gap to ensure the city is protected against a repeat of the devastating 2015 boxing day floods, which damaged more than 2,600 homes and 700 businesses.

Now, with the Chancellor expected to submit his final proposals this week to the Office of Budget Responsibility before his Budget is delivered on March 11, city bosses have urged him to allocate the funding needed and "give Leeds the protection it deserves".

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Leader of Leeds City Council, Coun Judith Blake, said there is "no excuse" for the Government not to allocate money in its March Budget for vital flood defence work in Leeds. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

In a letter to the Chancellor, Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves said: "In recent weeks, Kirkstall had a lucky escape as the area was rocked by Storms Ciara and Dennis. Had the flood water been just a few centimetres higher, then my constituents in Kirkstall would have faced a repeat of the devastation from 2015."

Arguing Kirkstall is "as vulnerable today as it was in 2015", she added: "This is a problem that the Government could easily solve, and indeed committed to doing so almost five years ago."

Leader of Leeds City Council, Coun Judith Blake, echoed her call and said: "The Government has since promised £4bn nationally for flood defences, so there really is no excuse for them not to use the upcoming budget to give Leeds the flood protection it deserves.”

Leeds City Council's Flood Alleviation Scheme - drawn up in the aftermath of the 2015 flood - remains £23m short of its £112m total.

Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves urged Chancellor Rishi Sunak to use his March Budget to fund the 23m shortfall needed for the city's flood defence project.

The current funding pot will only pay for defence work designed to protect Leeds against a one-in-100 chance of flooding in any given year.

But the 2015 flood was equivalent to a one-in-200 year disaster and council chiefs and politicians, together with the YEP, have been calling for the Government to fund the £23m shortfall to allow the scheme to be completed in full.

The latest plea to Whitehall comes after three successive weekends of strong winds and heavy rainfall, led by storms Ciara and Dennis.

Community groups and flood wardens in the city have been on alert and working around the clock, together with officers from Leeds City Council, the emergency services and other agencies to monitor and respond as the deluge continued.

Kirkstall Road in the devastating boxing day floods of 2015. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

More than a month's worth of rain fell in 24 hours and saw rivers in Leeds reach their highest levels since the Storm Eva floods on boxing day 2015.

Together with wind speeds of up to 70 miles an hour, issues were reported across the city, including localised flooding in and around Otley, along the A660 corridor and in the Allerton Bywater area.

On Monday night, the new moveable weir gates at Knostrop and Crown Point - part of phase one of the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme - were successfully operated for the first time, causing the river levels to drop by 80cm and 40cm respectively.

Coun Blake said: "They did prove effective and this is why we need the government to help us complete the next phase of the scheme in full as well as supporting us to provide the best level of resilience we can across all the watercourses in the city."

Flooded railway track at Kirkstall Forge after Storm Ciara. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Ms Reeves told the YEP: "The flooding we have witnessed around West Yorkshire in recent weeks should be a warning sign that the Government must act and stop delaying this urgent work.

"People deserve to feel safe in their own homes and businesses, so I urge the Government to finally deliver the flood defences Leeds needs.”

Further showers are forecast until Friday when the next bout of heavy rain is set to the hit the city but a spokeswoman for the Environment Agency told the YEP they don't expect this to cause the river levels to rise "significantly".

Coun Judith Blake paid tribute to everyone involved in dealing with the impact of the recent storms and the ensuing clean-up.

She said: "Working at all hours over successive weekends in such challenging conditions was tough but once again everyone pulled together and did everything possible to keep our city and communities safe.

"I’d like to pay a particular tribute to all of the volunteers, community groups and flood wardens who gave up their weekends and more to help, they are amazing people and the city owes them a real debt of gratitude."

Crown Point during Storm Ciara. Picture: Leeds City Council