‘We need more than just big walls around a river to cope with Leeds flood risk’

Aerial picture over the Kirkstall Road area of Leeds after monumental amounts of rain caused the river Aire to burst its banks on Boxing Day 2015.  PIC: Ross Parry
Aerial picture over the Kirkstall Road area of Leeds after monumental amounts of rain caused the river Aire to burst its banks on Boxing Day 2015. PIC: Ross Parry
Have your say

A PLANNING and regeneration boss has told an inquiry panel that even if Leeds had the comprehensive flood defences that were ditched by the Government in 2011, it still might not have been enough to prevent the Boxing Day deluge which damaged hundreds of homes and businesses in the city.

Councillor Richard Lewis, Leeds City Council’s cabinet spokesman on regeneration and planning issues, told colleagues that “we shouldn’t put the blinkers on” about one particular event but should instead think long-term.

Speaking before Leeds City Council’s City Development scrutiny panel, he said: “This event that we have experienced was so bad I wouldn’t like to say whether the big Environment Agency scheme that was knocking about in 2008 would have protected the city, I don’t know.

“We have to realise quite how bad things were.

“We really need to do a huge amount of work to think about what our solutions are. Quite rightly, people are going and demanding Government commitment to funding. But quite how we do [the work] is a more difficult question to answer.”

He said solving the flooding-risk problem was “not just about the big solutions”, adding: “It’s about what if we have a similar event happen next month? Would we be in a position to deal with it more effectively?

“What if it hadn’t happened during a national holiday? I think the impact on the city would have been devastating in different ways.”

The panel was also told that Leeds suffered at least £7million worth of damage to some of its waterways infrastructure from the Boxing Day flooding, according to latest estimates. However that number could rise because divers and engineers are still unable to inspect some structures and bridges while water levels remain high and the weather is still unpredictable.

The committee was also told that a brand new major flood defence scheme for Leeds - along the lines of the project abandoned in 2011 - could cost between £130m and £150m. Yesterday, the Government committed to £3m of funding for a feasibility study into a new scheme, after weeks of pressure from local politicians, residents and the Yorkshire Evening Post.

Councillor Lewis said: “We all need to think about what is the proper best solution for the city, and also to take things beyond Leeds, because it isn’t just about building walls around a river.

“It is about moorland management. It’s not just about the impact on Leeds, it’s about the impact on neighbouring authorities.”

He stressed Leeds should use its influence to talk about wider “upstream solutions”.

The panel was told of some of the devastating impact of the floods on city businesses, with firms in Kirkstall, Hunslet, Stourton and the city centre being particularly badly hit.

One food manufacturing firm in Kirkstall has already lost £150,000 in sales, 10 per cent of its annual turnover.

Another company in Stourton, which employs 200 people, has had to relocate entirely as it can’t continue on its existing site. The council is now helping the firm find alternative premises, but there are fears that if it doesn’t find the right site, it might have to quit Leeds entirely.

Between 500 and 600 Leeds businesses in total are thought to have suffered flood damage, with around 1,700 homes also believed to have been affected.