Time to review axed flood defences in Yorkshire

Leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn chats to Leeds Labour MP Rachel Reeves, as they walk down Kirkstall Road where small businesses were affected by the floods.   Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn chats to Leeds Labour MP Rachel Reeves, as they walk down Kirkstall Road where small businesses were affected by the floods. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

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GOVERNMENT ministers were today urged to resurrect shelved plans for a defence scheme that could have spared communities in Yorkshire from the ravages of the weekend’s floods.

Proposals for a £190m project that would have protected homes and businesses along a 12-mile stretch of the Aire in Leeds, from Kirkstall to Woodlesford, were axed by Whitehall in 2011 on cost grounds.

Flooding in Kirkstall Road.  27 December 2015.  Picture Bruce Rollinson

Flooding in Kirkstall Road. 27 December 2015. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Floods minister Richard Benyon at the time likened the flood wall scheme to “a Rolls-Royce, where a reasonably priced family car might serve some of the purpose”.

However on Boxing Day more than 2,000 homes – including 1,000 in Leeds – were caught up in the weekend’s flooding, the worst seen in West Yorkshire for decades.

Kirkstall Road was just one of a string of key local routes forced to close during the chaos.

Labour MP Rachel Reeves, whose Leeds West constituency includes the flood-hit area of Kirkstall, told The Yorkshire Post: “We need to go back to the drawing board and make sure that we are properly protected in the future. That’s the key.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and local Labour MP Rachael Maskell, lift some sandbags during his visit to view flood affected areas in York.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and local Labour MP Rachael Maskell, lift some sandbags during his visit to view flood affected areas in York.

In a letter to Communities Secretary Greg Clark seen by this newspaper, Ms Reeves also says: “The Government should, as a matter of urgency, revive plans that were previously scrapped to build stronger flood defences to ensure that a tragedy like this is not allowed to happen again.”

A revised £50m scheme utilising innovative moveable weirs got the green light in 2013. The news comes after Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn visited flood-hit residents in York and Leeds who said they felt “abandoned” by the authorities.

The Labour leader was praised by locals for visiting a council estate, rather than the “posh” streets where they said the Prime Minister had gone on Monday.

Mr Corbyn told residents: “You have every right to be angry.”

Speaking at the Foss Barrier, Mr Corbyn, said: “We have got a lot of very hard-working engineers and workers for the EA who have made superhuman efforts to try to protect this city, as they have tried to protect other cities all around the country, and I think we should be grateful to them for that.”

When he was asked why it had taken him five days to visit York, he said: “I didn’t want to get in the way of people doing an emergency job at a highly critical time.

Meanwhile a leading Government health minister has claimed “what needs to be done will be done” to ensure flooding devastation in West Yorkshire is never repeated.

Jane Ellison, Minister for Public Health, was speaking after a visit to the Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust (YAS), in Wakefield, in which she thanked staff for their hard work.

When asked whether West Yorkshire would be given adequate flood defence support amid claims of a north-south funding divide, she said: “There is not a different system for flood protection in different parts of the country and what needs to be done will be done.”

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