£190m Leeds flood scheme 'unaffordable' Government claims

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn
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The Government has reiterated a £190m flood defence that could have saved Leeds was 'deemed unaffordable', and the Prime Minister refuses to consider its revival.

A Downing Street spokesperson said the defence project planned to protect 12 miles of homes and businesses along the River Aire in 2011 was too costly, but added that a £33m investment for Leeds is still going ahead.

The comment comes years after then floods minister Richard Benyon said the proposed build was hugely expensive and that 'we might risk having a Rolls-Royce when a reasonably priced family car might have served some of the purpose.'

However with Leeds left under water on Boxing Day, Jeremy Corbyn took his chance at Prime Minister's Questions this lunchtime to ask whether that decision had been a clear mistake.

He also demands that Mr Cameron meets with Leeds MPs and city council leader Judith Blake over the recent flooding.

He said: "In 2011 a £190m flood defence project on the River Aire in Leeds was cancelled on cost grounds by the Government. A thousand homes and businesses were flooded in Leeds in recent weeks.

"The Government is still only committed to a scaled down version of the project worth a fraction of its total cost, when the Prime Minister claimed that money was no object when it came to flood relief.

"Will he meet the Leeds MPs, and Judith Blake, the leader of Leeds council in the near future, will he guarantee the full scheme will go ahead to protect Leeds from future flooding?"

However the Prime Minister said: "This was the wettest December for over 100 years and actually in Leeds and in Yorkshire it was the wettest December ever on record and that's why rivers in Yorkshire, including the Aire in Leeds was a metre higher than it has been in its history.

"No flood defence schemes have been cancelled since 2010, the investment in flood defences was £1.5bn in the last Labour Government, £1.7bn in the Government I lead as a Coalition Government and will be over £2bn in this Parliament. It has gone up, and up, and up."

Mr Corbyn was backed by his MPs who cried repeatedly for him to answer the question on Leeds' future, beyond the city centre.

A Downing Street spokesperson said it isn't correct that the £190m scheme was cancelled, because it was never formally adopted. He added that there is a £33m investment from the Government on a £45m project in Leeds City Centre, and £280m over the next six years in Yorkshire as a whole.

But he would not be drawn on whether a larger scheme for Leeds is in the pipeline, despite 1000 homes and businesses being damaged in the recent heavy rainfall.

The spokesperson cited a £10m investment in the Foss Barrier as part of the help offered to Leeds, which is £30m away in York and on a different river.

A Prime Minister's spokesperson said: "There's investment for flood defences in Leeds ongoing at the moment.

"The claim was that somehow the scheme had been cancelled. There was no scheme cancelled. Proposals were made for different schemes and no scheme was cancelled."

Another spokesperson said: "Robert Goodwill, the envoy for the area has been up there this week and said that we will go ahead with the scheme for Leeds. The point is there was no scheme ever approved for Leeds.

"There was a proposal but it was never adopted. It was deemed unaffordable."

A Labour spokesperson said: "Jeremy Corbyn addressed an issue that effects millions of people - floods. He didn't get any serious answers, he got insults and bad jokes and I think millions of people will have seen Prime Minister's Questions today as the Labour Party caring about the floods and the Government avoiding that.

"In 2011, a £190m flood defence scheme on the River Aire, is the one that was cancelled, which then led to the flooding of Leeds. In 2014, the 21 flood [schemes] applied for, only five were given and some of those turned down included Keswick and Kendal which were massively affected by the floods."