Was Leeds floods scheme cancelled or ‘re-announced’? Cameron and Corbyn trade blows

Flooding in Kirkstall Road, Leeds, on December 27
Flooding in Kirkstall Road, Leeds, on December 27
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A GOVERNMENT minister has been accused of overstating a new flood scheme to protect people's homes and businesses.

Transport minister Robert Goodwill, who has been appointed Yorkshire's new flooding envoy, said that following a meeting with the Environment Agency, he could confirm that a £33m scheme on the River Aire would go ahead.

However the leader of Leeds City Council and MPs have said this is not new money, and a scheme has already been approved several years ago.

The scheme will only protect Leeds city centre, and not the flood damaged Kirkstall area, despite him indicating that the Government was looking at building on the foundations of a previous proposal that covered a 12 mile stretch of the River Aire.

Councillor Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds City Council, said: “I am astounded by the suggestion from Mr Goodwill that the £33m scheme outlined in the Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post is in any way new money.

"This scheme was given the green light following the Government’s decision to take a planned £180m investment in Leeds off the table in 2011. Indeed, the revised £33m scheme only came about as a direct result of the Council investing £10m to enable it to go ahead.

"As yet, we have had no indication from Government that there will be the investment we desperately need to develop phases two and three of a flood alleviation scheme, which would include protection for Kirkstall.

"We need Government to provide the same level of commitment to our region as they have previously shown other flood-hit areas in the south of England.”

Meanwhile, David Cameron defended his record on flood defences as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn attacked the Government for cancelling a scheme in Leeds and turning down applications to improve protection in York and Cumbria.

Mr Cameron said the Tories had increased spending on flood defences to £2 billion as he taunted the Opposition leader over his drawn-out reshuffle which has prompted two shadow ministers to resign this morning, with more expected to follow.

Replying to Mr Corbyn’s attacks during Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Cameron said: “We are spending more on flood defence schemes and are stacking up a whole series of schemes that we’ll spend more on.

“But let me make this point to you.

“If you are going to spend billions of pounds on renationalising our railways, where are you going to find the money for flood defences?

“The idea that this individual would be faster in responding to floods when it takes him three days to carry out a reshuffle is frankly laughable.

“Since I walked into the chamber this morning your shadow foreign minister resigned, your shadow defence minister resigned, you couldn’t run anything.”

Mr Corbyn hit back: “It’s very strange that when I’ve asked a question about Leeds flood defence, then on Cumbria flood defence, the Prime Minister still seems unable to answer.

“Can you now tell us if there is going to be funding for those schemes?”

The Labour leader had highlighted the coalition’s cancellation in 2011 of a £190 million protection project on the River Aire in Leeds, where 1,000 homes have been flooded in recent weeks.

He said the Government was still only committed to a scaled-down project in the city before claiming the Government turned down in 2014 funding for new schemes in Keswick and Kendal in Cumbria, both of which were flooded in recent weeks.

Senior Government sources denied that the scheme to defend Leeds from floods had been cancelled, as Mr Corbyn suggested, saying that it had never been approved. A source said the scheme referred to by the Labour leader was one of a number put forward and it was turned down in favour of another proposal, which is currently being implemented.

Asked whether the scheme was rejected for being too expensive, the Downing Street source said: “The decisions you make are on what is the most effective way to use the resources you have got.”

Better protection for the Kirkstall area of Leeds was also raised in the House of Commons by Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves,(Labour) when she asked Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss if the scheme to protect Kirkstall would be resurrected.

She said: "If it had been in place, businesses on the Kirkstall Road would not have been devastated by the floods on Boxing day. We can never allow that tragedy to happen again—what will the Minister do?"

Ms Truss said: "Levels of water on the River Aire were a metre higher than they have ever been—we have seen simply unprecedented river levels. In light of that, the Government will be reviewing the Leeds scheme to ensure that it is sufficient to protect businesses and communities in Leeds."

Wakefield MP Mary Creagh said the £180m scheme planned in 2011 would have protected Kirkstall during the Boxing Day floods.

The Labour MP said: "The new scheme planned for Leeds, which will be completed by 2017, will protect only the city from a once-in-75-years event, and will do nothing for businesses on the Kirkstall Road. Will she look again at that resilience review, and ensure that the £60 million scheme for the Kirkstall Road is included?"

Ms Truss replied that the Labour party’s proposal going into the 2010 election was to halve the amount that it would spend on capital spending on flood protection.

She said: "We increased spending on flood defence from £1.5 billion to £1.7 billion in that period. I have already said that I will look at the Leeds scheme to ensure that it is sufficiently resilient for the new conditions that we are facing, and I am happy to meet the hon. Lady and her colleagues to discuss that further."

Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves said that she was disappointed that the £33m Leeds scheme was re-announced by flooding envoy Robert Goodwill.

Speaking to the Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post, she said: "Instead of additional money to protect homes and businesses in Kirkstall, Mr Goodwill was only re-announcing money from 2011.

"It will do nothing to protect businesses and property in Kirkstall. What we need is a comprehensive flooding defence scheme for the city."