Work "well underway" on second phase of £122m Leeds' flood alleviation scheme after storms wreak havoc

Work is now "well under way" on the second £112m phase of the city's flood alleviation scheme, the council has confirmed, just days after two back-to-back storms wreaked havoc on Leeds.

By Daniel Sheridan
Wednesday, 23rd February 2022, 4:30 pm

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In the last week Storms Dudley, Eunice and Franklin have brought extremely high winds of up to 75 miles per hour, and significant rain and snowfall, which over six days has been higher than the average for the whole of the month.

The result of such challenging conditions has been exceptionally high river levels.

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A view of the completed sheet piled embankment element of the Otley Flood Alleviation Scheme from Billams Hill, Otley.

However, Leeds Council said the weather also presented "the first test" for the £4.5milliion Otley Flood Alleviation Scheme completed in November.

On February 20, levels on the River Wharfe in Otley reached 1.92metres, similar to those from Storm Ciara in February 2020, when flooding was experienced on the road at Billams Hill.

As a result of the new scheme proving effective, this weekend floodwater was prevented from entering properties and the road at Billams Hill was not needed to be closed, the council said.

Some flooding was experienced in areas along the Wharfe catchment, but this was away from properties in keeping with the aims of the scheme.

Work to assess the river levels further downstream on the Wharfe is still ongoing according to the council.

Initial feedback is that water may have reached levels higher than Storm Eva on Boxing Day 2015.

River Aire damage

On the River Aire, the rising levels triggered the weir gates of the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme at Crown Point and Knostrop to be activated, and the floodgates at Holbeck to be closed, on Sunday morning.

Those measures proved effective in preventing flooding in the city centre according to the council.

While not as high as the floods caused by Storm Eva on Boxing Day 2015, the levels on the River Aire at Armley reached approximately four metres, only marginally lower than during Storm Ciara two years ago.

Measures were taken to move work equipment used in the new flood alleviation scheme where possible.

Due to the volume of water and speed of the river, estimated to be running at approximately 40 miles per hour, a construction pontoon broke free from its moorings and travelled downstream into the city centre last weekend.

On its journey it badly damaged a service bridge, which was due to be removed as part of the flood alleviation works, before breaking up as it reached the Dark Arches under Leeds Station.

Plans are underway to recover the pieces and the equipment it was carrying when the river drops to a safe level, the council said.

Council officers are continually assessing all key infrastructure across the city including bridges.

All footbridges and structures which the pontoon passed have been assessed and declared safe.

Weather conditions and river levels are now easing, but with further periods of extreme weather expected in the coming days all residents are advised to remain vigilant and to check the latest information from the Environment Agency, weather and travel providers before making journeys.

What did the council say?

Leeds City Council executive member for infrastructure and climate Councillor Helen Hayden said: “We all remember the devastation caused by Storm Eva in 2015, and while conditions weren’t as serious this time it is very pleasing that our flood defence schemes proved effective in shielding people and properties from its impact, especially our Otley Flood Scheme which was tested for the first time.

"With extreme weather events becoming more frequent it is important we all do everything we can to be aware and keep everyone safe.

“The loss of the pontoon was unfortunate, but thankfully no-one was injured and it does serve to underline the need for us to get the second phase of the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme completed as soon as possible so we can be as protected as possible from threats like this.

“I’d like to thank everyone involved from all agencies in recent days for their efforts in very challenging conditions to keep people safe, and especially for those community volunteers and flood wardens who give up their time to help others and keep the city moving.”

Thorp Arch bridge in Boston Spa remains open after being inspected by engineers.

Wetherby Bridge has also passed inspection and preparation is underway to remove debris collected on the upstream side of the bridge.

Daily inspections continue until the water levels recede.

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