Leeds business owners whose livelihoods were threatened by the Boxing Day floods in 2015 have voiced frustration after preferred plans to protect the city from future downpours were thrown into doubt.
The Environment Agency last week made an alternative proposal to the council’s ideal plan for Phase Two of the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme, which Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves said falls £47m short of what is needed.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has responded that it has already spent £33m on flood defence in Leeds and has committed a further £65m to the cause.
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But businesses such as Tyrannosaurus Pets, a specialist reptile shop in Kirkstall Road which was forced to ship its stock of animals to nine different homes across the city when the flood hit, are angered over the wait for assurances.
Owner Matthew Pedder, 45, said he was not surprised by the decision of an “incompetent UK Government”.
He said: “If they had done this three or four years ago it would’ve have [saved] more than that [£47m].
“This was all supposed to be done last year. I’m sure it was last year, to be finished this summer. This summer is no almost gone and they’ve not started it. They’ve done the businesses in the city centre so all the rich people are covered.”
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He urged ministers to “pull their finger out” and get the works done.
While Phase One of the city’s flood scheme has been completed, opening last year, the second part is due to place more infrastructure around Kirkstall and further up the River Aire.
Besnik Imeri, 38, lost £40,000 worth of stock from his Cash Planet store in Kirkstall Road following the deluge.
On the latest Government decision, he said: “It makes me feel not secure,” adding that there are now two aspects to his concern. “We don’t have insurance - we can’t be insured as soon as you tell them [a company] you are from this area. And all the time you have that fear it will happen again.”
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However Michael Swaine, manager of RCI Workplace Facilities Services over the road, which was hit with £80,000 worth of damage and had to write off its stock after the flood, thinks they were “unprecedented” and not likely to happen in the same way again.
The Environment Agency (EA) today said it has “not rejected” what is known as a one in 200 year scheme – worth £112m – and that the council can continue to pursue this bid.
But it confirmed that a “technical determination” found that a one in 75 year scheme “would be the most cost beneficial scheme for the city”.
Under these plans, raised flood defences (walls) and conveyance works (improving the flow of water) would be the only funded works, casting doubt on other proposals put forward by the council.
Ahead of its business case submission, published details of a potential pilot programme of “natural flood management” works – including the creation of new woodland areas by planting hundreds of thousands of trees – to be introduced over 30 years in the face of climate change.
Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves this week said: “Refusing to properly invest in flood defences is a false economy.”
But Adrian Gill, area flood risk manager at the EA said: “Working in partnership with Leeds City Council, the Environment Agency is fully committed to reducing the risk of flooding to Leeds.
“Last year, at a cost of £50 million, we saw the completion of the first phase of the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme.”
The council has requested a meeting with the Secretary of State for for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove MP, as soon as possible.