Leeds flood defences 'failed epically' says owner of Aire Bar as staff deal with Storm Ciara aftermath

A Leeds business owner has raised serious concerns about the effectiveness of the city's new flood defences after the measures failed to protect his bar during Storm Ciara.

Monday, 10th February 2020, 5:00 pm
Updated Monday, 10th February 2020, 5:12 pm

Sunday's storm provided the biggest test to date of defences designed to protect Leeds businesses and homes, with the River Aire reaching its highest levels since the Storm Eva floods of Christmas 2015.

Read More

Read More
Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme - what flood defences are being built, when will ...

It was also the first time that both of the city's moveable weirs gates - at Knostrop and Crown Point - had to be used to control river levels.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Manager Colin Deakin outside Aire Bar, off The Calls, Leeds. Picture: Simon Hulme

But low-lying paths beside the River Aire at Crown Point Bridge were still flooded and remained under water in at least one place this morning.

And 'flood proof' windows and doors installed at Aire Bar - at a cost of more than £100,000 - failed to keep the rising river waters at bay.

Staff today began the now familiar exercise of mopping up flood waters and washing away the silt carried into the bar as owner Chris Howard prepared to meet with representatives from Leeds City Council and its contractors.

"We're hoping we'll be able to open day," he said. "It's something we're used to but there's big questions mark over how much money has been spent and is it really fit for purpose?"

Sandbags on Kings Way Bridge, near The Calls. Picture: James Hardisty

In the wake of the Boxing Day floods, the bar in Sparrows Wharfe, just off The Calls, was given support from a relief fund to make repairs - but its business rates were then increased by 92 per cent the following April.

They now stand at nearly £3,000 per month, a figure that Chris says makes the riverside bar "pretty much non-viable" were it not for his other business investments.

As part of the wider flood alleviation programme, the council also arranged for specially strengthened 'flood proof' windows and doors to be installed in the listed building.

Those windows and doors failed yesterday, with pictures shared on social media showing river water and silt getting through into the bar.

Colin Deakin inside Aire Bar, where staff spent the morning clearing up after the latest flooding. Picture: Simon Hulme

Chris said: "We were told that was us flood defended but obviously the measures have failed epically. We were told it's a once in a 100 year thing and now we're having this conversation less than four years later.

"Yesterday wasn't a one in 100 year storm. It wasn't raining constantly and if that's what one day of rain does, I'm not sure what they've created with the moveable weir. Should it have been under water, should it have been raised?"

He said the way river levels had dropped when the weir was eventually moved had been like "someone had pulled the plug out of a bath" but he had concerns about how quickly staff could be on site to take action.

The River Aire spills onto a path by Crown Point Bridge, Leeds.

Chris said: "I've been here 15 years, I live here, I know how the river works but yesterday wasn't normal. It's not normal for one afternoon of rain to result in flooding like this.

"There's another 15 storms forecast for the next three months. If this is what one afternoon does, then we've seriously underestimated the force of Mother Nature and we're overdeveloping where we shouldn't have built."

He said he had noticed a difference in river levels after more housing was built downstream and the amount of silt carried into the bar raised questions about whether there was a need to dredge the river to increase capacity.

“The heavy rainfall and high water levels meant the river did continue to rise into Sunday evening but once deployed, the moveable weirs successfully reduced the height of the River Aire in the city centre and downstream."

He said said representatives from the council and the flood scheme contractors had visited Aire Bar today to discuss the issues with its flood resilience measures and would be working with the owner to resolve the problems.

Water levels on the River Aire remained high today following heavy rainfall during Storm Ciara.

"We continue to monitor river levels across the city, and ask everyone in Leeds and the region to remain vigilant until the storm has fully passed,” he added.