Lack of Leeds flood defence funding could put lives and businesses at risk, city MPs to warn Minister at crunch meeting

Leeds' political leaders are set to warn the Government that a lack of funding for flood defences in the city "could be putting lives and businesses at risk".

Tuesday, 16th October 2018, 1:45 pm
Updated Tuesday, 16th October 2018, 4:33 pm

Seven Leeds MPs representing Labour and the Conservatives will join city council leader Judith Blake the authority's Tory opposition leader Andrew Carter tomorrow in a meeting with Floods Minister Therese Coffey over the Government's proposals for flood defences.

They say the Environment Agency's proposed scheme for Phase Two of the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme, designed to prevent a repeat of the devastating 2015 floods, is £18m short of what is needed to properly defend Kirkstall and the surrounding area.

Labour's Rachel Reeves, representing Leeds West, said MPs and council leaders would be "hammering home the point to the Floods Minister that they could be putting lives and businesses at risk unless they act quickly and put in place the flood defences we desperately need”.

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She added: "The flood defences that the Government are now proposing would not have protected businesses and homes in Leeds against the catastrophic floods we endured in December 2015.

“The Government and the Environment Agency must not dither or delay. They need to get on with ensuring that Leeds is properly protected.

“It is almost three years since those horrendous floods hit Leeds and the surrounding area. The Government needs to listen to local people and give Leeds the protection it was promised and not press ahead with flood defences that fall woefully short of what is required.”

The Storm Eva flooding, which began on December 26, 2015, damaged more than 700 commercial properties and nearly 3,000 homes at a cost of £36.8m.

Other properties flooded included the Industrial Museum in Armley, Leeds Rhinos' training facilities in Kirkstall and the Rodley Nature Reserve.

Phase One of the flood alleviation scheme began in 2014 and was completed in October 2017, at a cost of £50m.

Focusing on the city centre, the scheme provides 3,000 homes, 500 businesses and key infrastructure with increased protection, but will not protect Kirkstall Road which was hardest hit in 2015.

As part of Phase Two, city leaders hope to take measures to reduce the flood risk in the entire River Aire catchment area, including areas such as Kirkstall and Stourton.

An outline business case was submitted to the Environment Agency in January, but earlier this year, but officials said the request for funding "did not offer value for money to the taxpayer".

City leaders say the alternative proposed by government only offers protection for a one-in-75-year flood, not the one-in-200-year protection that is needed at a time where the city is seeing ever more regular flooding.

The package offered by the Government would be worth around £65m, which city leaders say is £47.1m short of what is needed to prevent the 2015 floods.

Through local contributions, Leeds City Council is underwriting £28.5m towards the one-in-200-year scheme, meaning a further £18.6m is needed to bridge the gap.

City council leader Judith Blake said: “Leeds City Council has done what it was asked to do by the Government and has developed a proposal that will give the city the protection it needs and deserves.

"Now it’s time for Ministers to honour promises made in the aftermath of the devastating floods and to find the funding to implement our proposed scheme in full.

"People who suffered the devastation and misery of a flooded home or who lost their job due to a flood hit business closure would expect nothing less.”

Other MPs expected at the meeting include Labour's Hilary Benn, Alex Sobel, Fabian Hamilton and Richard Burgon, as well as Conservatives Stuart Andrew and Alec Shelbrooke. Andrew Carter, the leader of the city council's Conservative group, and chief executive Tom Riordan are expected to attend.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs said it was "committed to better protect Leeds from flooding".

She said: “We remain committed to better protect Leeds from flooding. We have already spent £33 million and have committed a further £35m between now and 2021 to better protect properties and businesses in Leeds.

“The outline business case submitted by Leeds City Council to the Environment Agency on 9 October is currently being reviewed.”