‘New Leeds homes must be built flood-proof’

Flooded houses at Port Elphinstone, near Aberdeen, after the River Don burst its banks.
Flooded houses at Port Elphinstone, near Aberdeen, after the River Don burst its banks.
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Planning laws must be amended to ensure that all new homes approved in Leeds are flood-proof, an influential panel of councillors has been told.

The Leeds City Council plans panel - which was discussing early proposals for up to 800 homes on 13 previously developed ‘brownfield’ sites in the city - was told yesterday that after the recent Boxing Day floods which devastated many communities in Leeds and the wider region, we “need to have a strong message regarding flooding and how planning can affect that”.

DECEMBER 2015: Flooding on Kirkstall Road. PIC: Bruce Rollinson

DECEMBER 2015: Flooding on Kirkstall Road. PIC: Bruce Rollinson

Leeds is bidding to build 70,000 new homes by 2028 to tackle a chronic housing shortage fuelled by a population boom.

Panel chairman Neil Walshaw said increased flooding was a “sad fact” of the 21st century and, as freak weather events become more frequent in the UK, it was important for decision-makers to “be mindful of flood issues in all their forms”.

“We do need a steer from the Government, but also at local planning level,” he said.

“Our problem as a city is that we are down catchment from a lot of problem areas.

“When you talk [flood risks in] Leeds, it’s about concrete and buildings. It will take an awful lot of regional co-operation.”

Horsforth Lib Dem councillor Brian Cleasby said he was left “disturbed” after recently raising the issue with senior planning officers and not getting a satisfactory response.

He said that even in cases where planning permission is already granted, recent events made it important to “take stock”.

It was suggested that a joint cross-party panel of planning experts from Leeds should collectively lobby the Government Minister and “get the law changed”.

The panel was told that there was often “distinct disagreement from hydrology experts” on the issue.

However, examples like Pickering in North Yorkshire - which built its own storage reservoir and dozens of small dams after failing to get Government funding for proper flood defences - proved it wasn’t “rocket science” and the “very low cost, localised, simple approach”” can work.

Conservative councillor John Procter stressed that “no planning officer has got a crystal ball and can predict water flows and how they will affect residential development and the like”.

He said he hoped in the future, those making planning decisions will have a “sceptical view” of how balancing arrangements for excess water will work.

Meanwhile the panel was presented with updated plans to sell off 13 sites in east Leeds in ‘package’ deals as the council bids to boost building of new homes and tackle the city’s chronic housing shortages.

The sites could hold 800 new houses between them.

They are being promoted as part of the council’s Brownfield Land programme, which is pushing for builders to develop previously developed land rather than build on green space.

As an incentive, the council is packaging pieces of land up in ‘parcels’.