Flood-hit Kirkstall business owners speak of relief at avoiding repeat of 2015 disaster

Relieved business owners in flood-hit Kirkstall have spoken of their "lucky escape" as the water levels this time stopped short of the height reached during the 2015 Boxing Day disaster.

By Joanna Wardill
Monday, 10th February 2020, 2:13 pm
Updated Monday, 10th February 2020, 3:30 pm

Those along Kirkstall Road and around the suburb, still reeling from the flood four years ago, told the Yorkshire Evening Post they were braced on Sunday for a repeat of the devastation.

Many rushed to their sites as the Environment Agency increased its warnings throughout the day, in a desperate bid to move stock to higher ground and try and protect their livelihoods.

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The swollen River Aire behind the Kirkstall Bridge Inn.

Thankfully, it became clear by Monday morning that the water level was receding and the immediate threat was over - but as one businessman said, the "suddenness and ferocity" of the water forced them face the very real possibility that their 2015 nightmare may happen again.

The Kirkstall Bridge Inn, on Bridge Road, was among those damaged by Storm Ciara's deluge on Sunday, with its beer garden on the banks of the River Aire all but swept away by the torrent.

But manager Rob Hepworth, 30, said it was thanks to flood defences paid for themselves that the pub itself escaped virtually unscathed this time, compared with 2015.

"The water level was up that high again but we've had the wall re-done ourselves and it was the only thing stopping the water. If it wasn't for that, the whole downstairs would be flooded and the pub would be closed today.

"We've had a very very lucky escape."

Criticising the powers-that-be, he said: "They promised flood defences since 2015 and have done absolutely s*d all. We have put in flood defences - we have paid for everything."

He added, as a small business, the cost of flooding - to takings and stock - is a worry.

"It's been a very stressful couple of days. And the stress is probably not over yet. We need to be re-doing the beer garden before summer. A lot of hard work over the next couple of months."

Roger Seib, one of the owners of Vitalis Business Interiors, on the corner of Kirkstall Road and Redcote Lane, said there was a lot of "panic and worry" on Sunday.

Flood-hit businesses welcome vital work on River Aire defences"We're used to getting flood warnings but it gets a bit more intense when they mention Redcote Lane specifically - your memories come flooding back.

"But what can you do? I can't lie at the front of the shop and stop the water coming in.

"It was just the suddenness and ferocity of it this time. All sorts go through your mind."

He hit out at the fact he can no longer get insurance to protect his business in the event of a flood - a grim reality for many businesses in the area.

"We have no insurance for our contents. It's unfair. The one risk that we actually have and we can't get insured," he said.

Besnik Imeri, 39, said he is still counting the cost from the 2015 flood at his Cash Planet business on Kirkstall Road, which also is now no longer insured.

"We're not able to get insurance. As soon as you put in the postcode, it's a no. Some companies do accept but they're so expensive. If it happens again, I don't think we can afford to keep the business."

He said he kept a close eye on his shop throughout Sunday - even buying sandbags that morning.

"It's scary because you can't predict what will happen. And the consequences are so high."

Chris Sharp, owner of neighbouring B&C Car Parts, said he "lost a fortune" in the 2015 floods and felt "very vulnerable" during Storm Ciara's deluge.

"We were watching the flood alerts last night and the water level got really really high.

"I came to check on the shop and was walking up and down for half an hour but just thought to myself, I can't do anything. So just had to go.

"We're hoping that's it for this year."

Azram Chaudhry, owner of the Sheesh Mahal restaurant on Kirkstall Road, which was left under 10ft of water in 2015, said he was "scared stiff" by Storm Ciara.

"We went through hell last time. In around September 2016 I reached breaking point. I was on the edge financially, physically, mentally. I don't know how I got through it.

"If it happens again, I don't think I will be able to find the willpower to go through that and open again."