THE scrapping of major flood defence schemes in Leeds and York, as well as other locations across the region, goes to the heart of the conundrum on public spending. These projects are necessary, but unaffordable at present.
In this context, Yorkshire Water’s proposed involvement offers a way forward that, potentially, breaks the logjam and ensures that more homes, and businesses, are protected in the future.
Crucially, the utility company offers a region-wide perspective – a new flood barrier may protect one community but have repercussions for other locations both upstream and downstream. This engineering expertise should mean that a river’s catchment area is considered in its entirety when any plans are drawn up.
However, some wider issues need to be addressed. Residents already pay for flood defences via the council tax and also general taxation. Should they, and especially people living on high ground, pay even more in water charges when this bill continues to rise by more than inflation?
The counter-argument, advocated by City of York MP Hugh Bayley, is that this would be fairer than the Government levying a “flood tax” on those specific areas that benefit from new defences – and endless arguments about who is classed as a beneficiary.
Though Yorkshire Water, as part of the Kelda Group, has the financial means to raise significant sums to pay for improvements, this will, nevertheless, have to be regulated to assuage those who contended that the privatised utilities continue to put the interests of shareholders before the delivery of public services.
Nevertheless, this should not preclude Ministers and others from exploring this proposal in greater detail. Given that every last penny appears to have been wrung out of the Treasury’s coffers for the foreseeable future, and that climate change is here to stay, a new approach is certainly required to protect those areas that are repeatedly prone to flooding – or an even greater bill, to industry and the Government, if a commercial hub like Leeds was to be subjected to flood waters marginally higher than the near-disastrous levels witnessed nearly four years ago.