Remembering the Leeds Boxing Day floods two years on

An aerial view of the devestation. Pic: Ross Parry.
An aerial view of the devestation. Pic: Ross Parry.
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It was a day most people in Leeds did not see coming, and one the city may never forget.

The surreal image of shops on Kirkstall Road submerged under murky rainwater after the almighty downpour on Boxing Day 2015 will be a lasting one.

Matthew Pedder of Tyrannosaurus Pets, which is only just recovering from the floods.

Matthew Pedder of Tyrannosaurus Pets, which is only just recovering from the floods.

Devastated business owners and residents paid the price in this city - just one area of West Yorkshire to face the expensive and emotional brunt of Storm Eva’s after-effects that Christmas holiday.

The deluge battered 3,355 properties in Leeds, 672 of which were businesses.

Before December 2015, the closest comparison to such conditions was in 2000 when around 100 properties in the city flooded.

But as shops, restaurants and bars prepared for a bustling Boxing Day two years ago, the Environment Agency issued a red warning – its highest alert.

Kirkstall Road shops under water.

Kirkstall Road shops under water.

This signalled “significant impacts to infrastructure and risk to life in the area,” it said.

Parts of the city centre, including Sovereign Street, The Calls and Clarence Dock, felt the full force of the deluge as the evening wore on.

The River Aire at Leeds Crown Point, which is usually 0.9 metres high, rose to 2.95 metres at 1am on December 27.

Its previous high was 2.45 metres, recorded in June 2007.

Leeds City Council leader Coun Judith Blake.

Leeds City Council leader Coun Judith Blake.

Other areas affected in the city centre as the flooding continued included Neptune Street, Asda House, Canal Wharf and the Brewery.

Ultimately, the direct cost to the city was an estimated £36.8m, with the cost to the wider city region being more than £500m, according to Leeds City Council.

Judith Blake, the authority’s leader, said: “The Christmas floods of 2015 caused devastation to communities and businesses in Leeds and across the region, but the response both immediately and in terms of the recovery which followed showed off the very best of our community spirit and a real teamwork approach by all agencies to help people get back on their feet.”

Tyrannosaurus Pets, a specialist reptile shop on Kirkstall Road, was one business hit hard by the floods, but which was saved in the long-run partly because of such spirit.

Matthew Pedder, store manager, said: “By the time I got here you couldn’t see the road. We had animals in the basement so we started shipping them upstairs. By the time we were finished, water was coming in through the door.”

Loyal customers who had heard about the situation turned up to help, and thankfully the reptiles stored in the shop could be moved unharmed to around nine different homes of helpers.

But the effect on the business itself was a “painful” one.

It re-opened more than eight months later during the August Bank Holiday at a temporary location in Headingley.

Mr Pedder, 45, of Armley, said: “It was very kind of our landlord [to offer the new premises] but Headingley is not our target demographic.

“Parking for our customers was a nightmare so we did lose some trade in the time were at Headingley and it’s taken us a long time to build that up again.”

The business only moved back to Kirkstall in January this year.

“We still get people coming in now saying, ‘We didn’t realise you were back’.”

Mr Pedder said “it’s not been cheap” to restore the business.

The process was also emotionally difficult for him as well as colleagues Jordan Mangham and Stu Eyles.

“It was a hard time for everybody. We’ve got some wonderful regular customers and without their support we wouldn’t be here.

“We’re now where we should be, it’s now just recovering. But we have to be where we should be for a few years to get where we want to be.”

He added: “Kirkstall’s trying to get back to normal. There are a few guys who didn’t make it back. Some poor lad from Syria had a takeaway – he dumped his life savings into it. He only opened in the October and he lost everything.”

What is being done to protect Leeds from future flooding?

The Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme is led by Leeds City Council in partnership with the Environment Agency and split into two phases, with the first £50m part officially being opened in October this year.

Phase One is intended to increase the level of protection against flooding from the River Aire and Hol Beck for residents and businesses in the city centre, Woodlesford and Holbeck.

Part of the scheme includes the installation of moveable weirs at Crown Point and Knostrop, a UK-first flood defence purposes.

Following the flooding in December 2015, the Government also committed £35million up to 2021 to further enhance protection in Leeds.

And the Environment Agency carried out a scoping study in 2016 which set out potential options to reduce flood risk to the city centre and Kirkstall Road as part of phase two of the scheme – plans for which were submitted to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs earlier this month.

It is due to look at Kirkstall and areas beyond the city boundary to further reduce the potential of the river overflowing in Leeds, as well as additional measures to offer protection for the South Bank area of the city centre.

The range of measures proposed are a mixture of “Natural Flood Management” – including the creation of woodland – and new infrastructure.

A new 700-metre flood defence at Stourton with new walls and surface water interventions, similar to those planned at Woodlesford as part of phase one, is proposed.

Coun Blake said: “We were delighted to open phase one of the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme in October which puts Leeds at the forefront of flood prevention measures using state-of-the-art technology.

“The severity and impact of the floods means we need to do more which is why we need government support to implement our plans for phase two along the Kirkstall Road corridor, which takes a full catchment wide approach to protecting residents, businesses and communities in Leeds and beyond.”