Finally: U-turn sees flood defence scheme promised for River Aire in Leeds

Flooding in Kirkstall Road.  27 December 2015.  Picture Bruce Rollinson
Flooding in Kirkstall Road. 27 December 2015. Picture Bruce Rollinson
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THE Government will build a longed-for flood defence scheme on the River Aire in Leeds, years after original plans were dropped due to its expense.

Homes and businesses on Kirkstall Road were damaged after the river burst its banks on Boxing Day but a Government U-turn will ensure a new £33m defence is in place by 2017.

£40m isn’t going to be anywhere near enough.

Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council

The announcement by newly-appointed Yorkshire flood envoy, Robert Goodwill MP, comes as it is revealed that a separate £40m top-up on flood defence spending for Yorkshire is the same as offered to the Somerset Levels in 2014, despite it being a far smaller geographical area.

Leader of Leeds City Council Judith Blake said the £40m clearly would not be enough to fix the damage.

She said: “Clearly when you look at the damage across Yorkshire - the impact on bridges in Linton, Tadcaster and Calderdale for example - £40million isn’t going to be anywhere near enough. It’s the first step, but the contribution of the government will have to be much, much higher.”

Mr Goodwill announced the £33m project for the River Aire following a meeting with Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency.

He said: “In 2010 the scheme that had been planned was unaffordable. We had to cut our clothes according to our cloth. We are now looking at how we can build on, and augment that.”

He said the new defence would protect office blocks and restaurants near the river, in an area of the city with a number of ‘high value’ properties.

The money is included in the Government’s £2.3bn capital spending plans for flood alleviation schemes across the UK.

However it falls far short of the original £190m flood defence project spanning 12 miles from Kirkstall to Woodlesford, which was axed by Whitehall back in 2011 on cost grounds.

A revised £50m scheme was also approved in 2013 to cover a two-mile stretch of the Aire from the centre of Leeds to Thwaite Mills, with additional defences in Woodlesford.

Mr Goodwill, Conservative MP for Scarborough, said the Government has invested more money than the Coalition Government and Labour.

They they have already pledged to spend £280m in Yorkshire over the coming years, and nationally they spent £1.5bn between 2005-2010, rising to £2.3bn between 2015 and 2021.

As a Yorkshireman, Mr Goodwill said he is well placed to make sure residents know what financial help that is available, and he will next meet with York City Council and with MPs.

However spending on defence maintenance has fallen, shadow environment minister Kerry McCarthy said, and she criticised the £40m pledged to Leeds as being merely a ‘sticking plaster’.

She said: “Just to come up with £40m doesn’t compensate all the money they should have been spent since 2010.”

Mr Goodwill denied a north-south divide over flood spending after £35m was offered to Somerset in 2014, an area four times smaller than Yorkshire.

He said: “When the Somerset Levels faced that dramatic flooding problem we helped them and we will step up in the same way.”