Leeds gets £22m to help city avoid repeat of devastating Boxing Day 2015 floods

More than £22m in extra government funding has been handed to officials in Leeds to help the city prevent a repeat of the devastating Boxing Day floods of 2015.

Leeds City Council has been granted £21m for phase two of its flood alleviation scheme, as well as £1.3m for natural flood management projects including an increase in woodland cover along the River Aire.

It is part of a £170m funding package which the Government says will kick-start "shovel-ready" flood defence projects across England to protect homes, businesses and jobs.

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Flooding in Kirkstall Road. 27 December 2015. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Yorkshire, which has been repeatedly hit by severe flooding in recent years, is among the biggest beneficiaries of the funding.

Some £12m is going to provide better protection for Hebden Bridge in the Calder Valley, which was badly affected by flooding earlier this year, while £16m will be spent on providing a "comprehensive flood defence within an area at high risk of flooding"on the River Loxley in South Yorkshire.

A further £960,000 will aid restoration of peatland in the Pennines to reduce flood risk in small towns and villages where it might not be viable to deliver traditional flood schemes.

The funding for Leeds comes after months of lobbying by local leaders for government to give the city the protection it needs to avoid a repeat of the devastating 2015 boxing day floods, which damaged more than 2,600 homes and 700 businesses.

Leeds City Council's Flood Alleviation Scheme - drawn up in the aftermath of the 2015 flood - remains £23m short of its £112m total.

The existing funding pot only pays for defence work designed to protect Leeds against a one-in-100 chance of flooding in any given year.

But the 2015 flood was equivalent to a one-in-200 year disaster and council chiefs and politicians have been calling for the Government to fund the £23m shortfall to allow the scheme to be completed in full.

The Government says the new funding will protect more than 370 businesses and enable development of land for homes and jobs, subject to a business case approved by the Environment Department and Treasury.

Councillor Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “This commitment by the government to allocate additional funding towards flood schemes in Leeds is welcome news and a huge endorsement of the tenacity and determination shown by all those who have continued to work so hard to ensure our city and communities are protected from the devastating impact of flooding.

“We are still working to understand the details of the funding being made available but this announcement will be particularly significant for the next step of the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme Phase 2 and we look forward to working with our local partners and central government towards delivering the scheme in full.”

Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves said: "It is fantastic news that after almost five years of dragging their feet that the Government have finally approved the vital funds needed to properly protect Leeds from future floods.

“The floods on Boxing Day 2015 had a catastrophic impact on businesses in Kirkstall and Burley. I'm glad the Government has listened and that Leeds will get its flood defences at last.

“I will continue to keep the pressure up to ensure these defences are in place as swiftly as possible."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: "Last winter I saw for myself the misery and upheaval that flooding can bring to lives and livelihoods and I said we would do more to help people.

"This long-term plan will help push back the flood waters and protect hundreds of thousands of homes, businesses and livelihoods.

"Our record investment will also stimulate economic growth across the UK as we build back better."

Mr Johnson visited flood-hit communities during the 2019 general election campaign but faced criticism for not doing so during floods earlier this year.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: "The devastating impacts of last winter's flooding were an important reminder of the need to continue to invest and accelerate action to reduce the impact of flooding on our communities.

"Our record investment and ambitious policies will better protect homes, schools, hospitals and businesses, but we also recognise that we cannot prevent flooding entirely, which is why we will ensure that communities at high risk are more resilient."