Minister's 'dither' on flood defences 'could endanger Leeds residents'

Flooding on Kirkstall Road, Leeds, in December 2015.
Flooding on Kirkstall Road, Leeds, in December 2015.
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A Minister has failed to commit to funding flood defences in Leeds that would stop a repeat of the 2015 Boxing Day devastation, prompting MPs to warn that her “dither and delay” could put businesses and citizens at risk.

Flooding Minister Therese Coffey met with Leeds MPs in Parliament yesterday to hear their demands for £18m of Government funding to help build defences that would protect the city from a repeat of the Storm Eva flooding.

But while Ms Coffey ruled out the limited flood protection plan that the Government had been offering, she failed to commit to funding the one-in-200 year blueprint proposed by the council and backed by MPs across parties.

Both Tory and Labour MPs present described a frustrating meeting, with some saying the Minister at times appeared ill-prepared.

Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves said: “Today was a real missed opportunity for the Government Minister to make a commitment to Leeds.

“We all had quite high expectations going into that meeting we would get some sort of commitment or at least a timetable of where we were going next, we haven’t got that and the dither and delay is going to mean more worry and of course a risk of the same sort of damage that we saw on Boxing Day 2015.”

She added: “That vulnerability remains until we get those flood defences. This is the third Minister we have seen in less than three years to make the case on behalf of the people of Leeds and once again we go away without the commitments we need, and that is incredibly disappointing.”

Conservative Defence Minister and Pudsey MP Stuart Andrew said: "My concern is that time is of the essence.

"If it had been a normal working day in 2015, what would have happened is people would have been stranded in the city

"I pressed upon the Minister the urgency of this - this is about businesses and people who are in danger if something like this happens again."

The Storm Eva flooding, which began on December 26, 2015, damaged more than 700 commercial properties and nearly 3,000 homes at a cost of £36.8m.

The Industrial Museum in Armley, Leeds Rhinos' training facilities in Kirkstall and the Rodley Nature Reserve were all damaged.

Phase One of the flood alleviation scheme began in 2014 and was completed in October 2017, at a cost of £50m.

Focusing on the city centre, the scheme provides 3,000 homes, 500 businesses and key infrastructure with increased protection, but will not protect Kirkstall Road which was hardest hit in 2015.

As part of Phase Two, city leaders hope to take measures to reduce the flood risk in the entire River Aire catchment area, including areas such as Kirkstall and Stourton.

The package offered by the Government would be worth around £65m, which city leaders say is £47.1m short of what is needed to prevent the 2015 floods.

Through local contributions, Leeds City Council is underwriting £28.5m towards the one-in-200-year scheme, meaning a further £18.6m is needed to bridge the gap.

Flooding Minister Ms Coffey said: “We recognise the devastation the Boxing Day floods caused Leeds which is why we are investing heavily to provide better flood protection for the city.

"We have already invested more than £30m in a scheme which is now better protecting the city centre and have committed a further £65m for a ‘second phase’ to protect a wider area including the Kirkstall Road.

“This meeting was an important opportunity to discuss these second phase plans with MPs and councillors who are showing great passion and determination to ensure their communities are better protected. I confirmed I have ruled out the one-in-75 year option.

“The funding we set aside is to protect homes across Yorkshire and elsewhere in England. I’m conscious there are other communities in Yorkshire also seeking funding.

“We will continue to work together to ensure we develop a scheme which provides the Leeds with the protection it needs while also making the best possible use of taxpayer money.”

Tory group leader on Leeds City Council Andrew Carter said work needs to begin urgently.

"We want to get a commitment from Government that we will work with them and other funding agencies, with Leeds putting some extra funding in, which we should, this is serious stuff and we have to be at the party as well, and then identify together how we can move it forward.

"We need to progress the work in the coming financial year and then build on that work to achieve the one-in-200 year scheme.

"So I am by no means downhearted, there's work still to do and that's what negotiations are all about, and it has moved in our direction."

Elmet and Rothwell Tory MP Alec Shelbrooke added: "I'm pleased that the minister has rejected official advice of a one-in-75 and moved up to at least one-in-100. I will continue with colleagues to lobby for funding for 1 in 200, but I was pleased to hear there has been a small step forward"