FLOOD defences are not just about the protection of homes and businesses – they’re an investment in the future and Ministers need to recognise this when they meet a cross-party delegation of Leeds MPs, councillors and officials.
Nearly three years after the city, and other parts of Yorkshire, witnessed catastrophic floods, they’re still trying to convince the Environment Agency that such areas are worthy of the protection, and funding, afforded to the South East.
The context is this. Phase one of the Leeds flood alleviation scheme was completed last year and protects 3,000 homes, 500 businesses and key infrastructure.
However officials are dragging their feet over phase two because the Environment Agency doesn’t share Leeds Council’s ambition for a £112m scheme that would give at-risk communities, such as Kirkstall, far more protection. It favours a lesser scheme when an extra £18.6m from Defra’s budget would, in fact, finance the project in full and, in doing so, protect far more properties and give residents greater reassurance.
For three reasons, Dr Thérèse Coffey, the Environment Minister, must listen to common sense.
First, it would belatedly honour promises made by David Cameron, Liz Truss and other Ministers to victims after the floods – the Government, in case it has forgotten, still has an obligation to flood-hit areas.
Second, it would show that Ministers value the economic strength of cities like Leeds.
Finally, £18.6m is a drop in the ocean compared to the clean-up costs and reputational damage that Leeds would suffer if the river Aire burst its banks in the near future.