HOW many times must Leeds – one of the largest cities in the country – be flooded before the Government digs deep and provides adequate defences for the many homes and businesses which find themselves at risk when the river Aire bursts its banks?
It is a question which David Cameron is now duty-bound to answer after Elizabeth Truss, the Environment Secretary who actually grew up in Leeds, told local MPs that the budgets of Defra – and the Environment Agency – are so set in stone for six years that she can’t even afford a £3m feasibility study at present.
Not only is such short-sightedness a total false economy, especially if Leeds is submerged in the interim, but it means that the city – key to the region’s economic prosperity – could be waiting a generation for the defences first proposed after the 2007 floods and which then fell victim to coalition cuts in 2011.
Though Ministers have grudgingly agreed to fund a smaller scheme in Leeds which is now being constructed, and forked out £40m to aid with the recovery operation still underway across the county, it will not benefit Kirkstall – scene of some of the worst damage – and exposes the Government’s derisory record.
This snub makes a mockery of Mr Cameron’s vague promises to help victims – he tweeted on December 28 after a goodwill visit to York that this county “will get more of the protection needed to deal with floods”.
It exposes the inflexibility of the £2.3bn budget for flood defences which Ms Truss agreed prior to the Autumn Statement.
Why did she not hold out for more money – or make provision for contingency funding?
And there is the mental anguish which is, frankly, incalculable.
The Government’s funding models, used to determine whether such projects offer sufficient value for money to the taxpayer, make no allowance for the heartache suffered by those who lost their possessions, who might struggle to sell their properties if they wish to move and who will be left without affordable insurance until the river Aire’s defences are raised.
Four weeks after Storm Eva unleashed the full force of her misery the betrayal of Leeds is unforgivable.
The stench of hypocrisy is truly overwhelming.