London leaders can show they care about the North by backing Leeds flood defence plan for starters – Judith Blake

A test of the Government's commitment to Power Up The North will be whether Ministers fund promised flood defences for Leeds according to city council leader Judith Blake.
A test of the Government's commitment to Power Up The North will be whether Ministers fund promised flood defences for Leeds according to city council leader Judith Blake.
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THE Power Up The North campaign spearheaded by The Yorkshire Post is sending a clear message that the North is united around securing a better deal for our 15 million people.

Investment in the North can help ease the pressure on the overheating housing market in south-east England that is forcing more and more families into poverty. If cities like Leeds do well, then London will benefit.

Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake, addressing the Great Northern Conference earlier this year.

Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake, addressing the Great Northern Conference earlier this year.

North needs more than empty words – Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu

We are showing that we can deliver, and there is a buzz and energy in Leeds that is bucking national trends on investment by attracting a number of high-profile arrivals like Channel 4, Endemol, UKTV and Burberry.

Theresa May’s successor warned: Power Up The North before it is too late

We are building more homes than for a decade – 3,430 this year – and making sure they are affordable by delivering our own programme of new council housing.

Leeds Station is in urgent need of new investment, says city council leader Judith Blake.

Leeds Station is in urgent need of new investment, says city council leader Judith Blake.

We put people first in Leeds, and have a proud record of working with families, charities and the NHS to tackle social challenges beyond Whitehall’s reach.

Our work to tackle health inequalities across the city is an important example of this, with Leeds recently becoming the first city in the UK to reduce childhood obesity, bucking a national trend.

This has been done working with parents in the most deprived parts of Leeds and equipping them with the skills to give their children the best possible start in life.

I would argue that this success has been despite our national Government rather than because of it.

We could be delivering another thousand homes a year in our city centre but are 18 months into a protracted Whitehall process that is unwittingly feeding the overheated London housing market.

Leeds Station is already by far the busiest in the North but an upgrade is long overdue. Anyone standing on platform 16 trying to board an overcrowded delayed train over recent months feels that sharply.

And with passenger numbers forecast to grow by 80 per cent over the next 25 years, investment in the station is vital.

We are making the most of the first major investment in the city’s transport system for decades through park and ride, cleaner buses and improved cycling routes, but much more is needed, not just in Leeds, but the wider city-region.

This is in the interests of the whole of the UK and it is investment the people of Leeds and Yorkshire deserve. The strength of our local economy means that Leeds is a net business rates contributor to the UK economy, with Bristol being the only other major UK city outside of London that achieves this outcome.

It is now close to three-and-a-half
years since the Storm Eva Boxing Day floods nearly obliterated parts of 
Leeds.

Ministers assured us at the time that we would receive “whatever it takes” to protect the city along the rivers Aire and Wharfe in future.

The first phase of those improvements was completed in 2017.

Featuring state-of-the-art moveable weir technology, the £50m scheme delivered by Leeds City Council with the support of the Environment Agency, offers protection for the first time ever from the threat posed by the river Aire in the city centre and further downstream.

Leeds City Council and the Environment Agency have now put forward the second part of the flood plan, as requested by Ministers, using a range of measures covering the whole river Aire catchment.

This will cost £112m. Yet, to date, the Government can only offer £65m, leaving a significant funding gap. We are asking the Government to provide £23m more to fill this.

To get things moving, we have put forward a pragmatic two-step solution, doing what we can now with a further step to follow once all the remaining funding is in place.

Encouragingly, the first step was supported by planners last week and we are hopeful of work starting in the coming months.

It is only by completing the scheme
in full that Leeds will have the 
one-in-200-year-level of protection
in place that is recognised as being needed.

So I call on the Government again
to fund the scheme in full or have
further dialogue with us over a potential solution.

Continued delays on this could put people’s homes and jobs at risk.

We need to get on and get this
work done, so we need Ministers to honour the promises they gave us. 
Failing to finish this project is not an option.

Supporting our plans will be an important first step towards restoring the shattered confidence of people that the Government really does take the North seriously.

Judith Blake is the leader of Leeds City Council. 
She is a Labour councillor.