By John Baron
A ‘consortium’ of organisations has been formed in a bid to restore neglected Kirkstall Goit to its former glory, a public meeting decided last night.
The meeting saw a number of community organisations and individuals come together to speak of their frustrations over the lack of action to restore historic Kirkstall Goit, an artificial channel by the side of Kirkstall Abbey Park and the River Aire.
The goit was established more than 200 years ago so water could be used to power nearby mills.
But the flow of water towards the goit was cut off around 20 years ago when the sluice gates – which control the amount of water being let into the goit from the River Aire – were closed.
The meeting heard that residents have been campaigning for water to be allowed back into the goit for much of that time – but they feel their pleas have fallen on deaf ears, despite meetings with the council and local councillors over the years.
Tony Robbins, from the Kirkstall Village Action Group, told the meeting: “The goit has just been left to dry up for years and years. It is now just a rat-infested swamp.
“When I first moved here in 1974 it used to be lovely and there was so much wildlife. There were herons, kingfishers, swans and you could see fish swimming. Now it’s just a mess, it’s just a trickle of water in parts.”
Martin Groom, chair of the Friends of Kirkstall Abbey Park group, raised environmental concerns, warning low water levels would eventually lead to overheating in summer and the collapse of most aquatic life. Mr Groom wrote about his concerns in a letter to WLD two years ago here.
Another resident said: “We either have the goit or we don’t, we have to overcome the obstacles or we don’t. Things can’t just stay as they are. The goit should have been properly integrated into the flood defence scheme in the first place.”
The public meeting was attended by 11 people at St Stephen’s Church Hall and was chaired by Councillor Hannah Bithell, with Cllr Andy Rontree (both Lab, Kirkstall) also in attendance. There were also calls for more active support from local councillors.
The meeting heard a temporary diversion pipe to the goit was installed as flood defence work is carried out and has recently been lowered to allow more water to flow through the goit.
Works to install flood defences are ongoing in the area but Leeds City Council’s flood risk manager Jonathan Moxon warned that improvements to the goit had no funding attached and required a separate ‘substantial’ scheme separate to the current £105 million flood alleviation project.
He said the issues surrounding low water flow along the goit were mainly associated with the historic closure of the historic sluice gates upstream, and that legal permission to re-open the gates would need to be gained from the Environment Agency.
Mr Moxon said that restoring the goit wasn’t as simple as just re-opening the gates, and that a number of factors to ensure water flow of both the river and goit needed to be taken into consideration.
The meeting decided to form an informal ‘Goit consortium’ of individuals and groups to look at funding opportunities to progress and design a scheme to improve water flow in the goit. It was agreed to invite a member of the Environment Agency along to their next meeting to discuss the next steps.
Flood defence works delayed
The meeting heard that work on the Flood Alleviation Scheme (FAS) in Kirkstall, which was due to be finished last year, had also run into a series of delays and were now unlikely to be completed before the end of the year or early 2024.
The works are looking to reduce the risk of flooding between Leeds Station and Apperley Bridge following the Boxing Day 2015 floods which affected local businesses and infrastructure along the Kirkstall Valley.
The delays were blamed at the public meeting on a series of technical and on-site difficulties, as well as managing inflationary costs attached to the multi-million pound scheme.
Adele Rae, of the Kirkstall Valley Development Trust (KVDT), said the Kirkstall community ‘had been left a bit short’ by the scheme, pointing to concerns about work near Kirkstall Valley Farm.
“My perception of this is that we as a community have no benefits to the scheme, other than the obvious flood protection. Work has taken so long and now we are talking about the New Year,” she told the meeting.
WLD reported in March that an extra £12.56 million had been injected into the scheme to build flood defences on the banks of the River Aire to help ensure the full scheme proceeds to completion.
Council report said increased costs were a result of hyper-inflation caused by unpredictable world events, as well as the impacts of Covid, Brexit and Storm Dudley.
When it is complete, Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme 2 will reduce flood risk to a 0.5% probability of occurring in any given year (a 1-in-200-year level of flood protection) for 1,048 homes and 474 businesses.