Flood defences ‘vital to protect city’s economy’

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THE first phase of a multi-million pound flood defence project to protect the heart of a Yorkshire city is expected to get underway in just over 12 months after blueprints for the development have been submitted.

The city centre of Leeds, which is widely considered as one of the key drivers of the regional economy, currently has no formal flood defences and has come perilously close to flooding on five occasions since 2000. A planning application for the defence scheme has now been submitted and Leeds Council bosses hope that work could get underway in just over a year if the project gets the go-ahead within the next few months.

The council’s executive member for development, Coun Richard Lewis, claimed a flood in Leeds could have a devastating impact on the regional economy and it was important protection work started.

He added: “We do not want to be in a position of waiting for every last penny to be in place. It is better to make a start on the first element of the scheme. Given the developments taking place in the city centre flood defences need to be given top priority. If we have to start things with our own money while awaiting other contributions then so be it, We have had several occasions when the city centre came close to flooding. Everyone knows we cannot allow Leeds to flood. The Government has recognised the importance of flood defence infrastructure and many cities are after money but the economic case for Leeds is overwhelming.”

A £188m River Aire flood alleviation scheme stretching over 10-and-a-half miles from Horsforth to Woodlesford failed to attract government support and during the past two years the council and Environment Agency have been working on phase one of the project, which is expected to cost between £50m and £75m, to provide protection in the city centre.

Stage one, for which the planning application has been submitted, would remove the existing weirs at Knostrop and Crown Point and replace them with moveable weirs. Later work would include walls and landscaped raised defences and removal of the Knostrop Cut to merge the river and the Aire and Calder Navigation. The current 19th century weirs hold the river level artificially high to allow navigation. When there is danger of flooding, the moveable weirs will be lowered allowing the river level to be lowered. Once the risk is over, they will be raised again so boats can navigate the river.

The council agreed a £10m contribution earlier this year to kick-start the scheme and it was announced recently the city was to receive £4m from the Government-backed Regional Growth Fund to help with flood prevention. More cash could come from the Department of Environment. Food and Rural Affairs and a bid has also been made to the European Regional Development Fund. In the longer-term, contributions could come from the private sector through legal agreements attached to planning consents.

Coun Lewis said: “Our contribution of £10m is a big commitment and a political statement of our intent. All parties agree we have to do this. We could be in a position of something starting to happen in a year’s time.”

A report presented earlier this year to the council’s executive board, which approved the £10m contribution, stated the city centre was only inches away from flooding in 2000. The Environment Agency has estimated that more than 4,500 residential and commercial properties are at risk and about £400m of direct damage would be caused by a major flood from the River Aire in Leeds.

The report said: “This remains a vitally important scheme for the city, not just because of the threat to lives and property but also because of the long-term reputational damage a major flood would have on the attractiveness and economic performance of the city.”

The Environment Agency’s flood manager, Adrian Gill, said: “A flood alleviation scheme for Leeds is being developed by Leeds Council in partnership with others, with the council taking the lead role. We are working closely with the council and wider team to make this happen. The scheme will incorporate moveable weirs, alterations to the canal, and carefully designed flood defence walls. This could attract a contribution from Defra of approximately £9 million, subject to approval and additional funding being secured.”