We do not believe the Government wishes to allow this great city of ours – a northern economic powerhouse in its own right – to ever again find itself waist, knee, or even ankle deep in muddy flood waters.
We believe the Government knows that the city’s residents, its civic and business leaders found it indefensible – to coin a recent Yorkshire Evening Post headine on the matter – that such a catastophe happened at all.
We believe that the Government understands, such was the level of outrage when one of the main routes into the city became, in effect, a tributary of the River Aire, that the idea of it happening again is untenable.
Yesterday Chancellor George Osborne announced that the Government intended to spend £700m on flood defences and flood resilience, to be paid for by an increase in insurance premiums. This announcement, to invest in schemes in Leeds, York and the Calder Valley, at first glance, appears to vindicate all those who have been campaigning for increased investment after homes and businesses were ruined by the December floods.
Three months on and victims continue to endure a living nightmare; some have been forced out of business altogether.
We remain cautious about the Chancellor’s announcement. The entire city will. After all, this is the Government which chose – in 2011 – to cancel the flood alleviation scheme proposed for the Aire Valley in Leeds after the 2007 floods. This short-sighted decision now looks even more of a false economy as firms shut because of the scale of the damage.
We think our caution is well placed. And the devil, as they say, will be in the detail. Though the delivery of Mr Osborne’s Budget speech implied that proposed schemes would be funded in full, the fact of the matter is that these four areas are only entitled, according to Treasury documents, to £150m of the additional £700m being made available and that this allocation is not sufficient on its own.
The Chancellor is now duty-bound to provide greater clarity. For starters, how will this £150m be allocated? When contrasted with the original estimate of £180m for the previously cancelled 2011 Leeds scheme, it seems a drop in the ocean and not nearly enough.
The city watches and waits, Mr Osborne. You have our attention – now put your money where your mouth is.