THREE major flood protection schemes in Yorkshire have been shelved as the Environment Agency had its budget for the region slashed by 41 per cent.
Plans for flood defences in Leeds, York and Thirsk are now on hold after Yorkshire received one of the lowest settlements for capital projects in the country.
The agency admitted those in rural areas would be at greatest disadvantage, as the projects that are given the go-ahead are done so on a scoring system influenced by population density. But it said Yorkshire's reduced settlement of 16.9m for the next financial year – down from 28.7m – was partly due to the number of flood defence projects that have recently been completed in the region.
And it was adamant that there would be no increased flood risk as funding for the maintenance of existing schemes would continue.
Andrew Waller, leader of York Council, said the budget cut was unacceptable and warned that residents had been waiting years for the projects.
The Government has pledged that spending on flood defences would remain similar to previous levels and he called on the Coalition to honour that promise.
"This is a dreadful announcement," Mr Waller said. "I do not accept it. It took the disastrous flooding in 2000 and then in 2007 for people to realise what is at risk. Schemes that were delayed in 2006 are being delayed again. It is very disappointing, the Government must honour their promise."
The Leeds flood defence scheme is a 180m project that would be built along a 19km (11.8 mile) stretch of the River Aire, while planned work in Thirsk, which has no formal defences despite a history of flooding dating back to the 18th century, is also off the table.
The Leeds project is the largest ever planned inland flood defence scheme and would have increased protection to one of the largest commercial areas in England and about 4,500 city centre homes.
But the Environment Agency said it was always an ambitious plan, and they may have struggled to find enough funding even before the economic crisis.
The 6m project for the Water End and Leeman Road area of York, which came close to being swamped by the floods in 2000, is also on hold. The River Ouse has a long history of flooding the area.
York MP Hugh Bayley is set to raise the issue of funding with the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs next
In Thirsk, records of flooding from Cod Beck in Thirsk date back to 1754 and the area was most recently hit in June 2005.
There are no formal defences in the town, where more than 80 properties have a one per cent chance of flooding in any one year.
Kim Andrew, area flood risk manager for the agency, said: "What we must make clear is that the flood risk stays the same – the defences are not being taken down and we have the funding to maintain our assets. The level of service that we are providing will not degrade."
Ms Andrew added: "We are not abandoning anyone but there is not enough money to go round and until the funding becomes available there are things that can be done.
"We can offer help and advice on how to protect your home. We could also look at whether landowners could take on some of the cost of flood defences. And the EA is actively pursuing other funding streams."