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Conservation society urges action – almost a year after damage to historic Newlay Weir

Words: John Baron

Newlay residents have voiced their frustrations over delays affecting an independent review into the future of a historic West Leeds weir, which was badly damaged during a storm a year ago

Grade II Listed Newlay Weir partially collapsed last February following high river levels caused by Storm Christoph.

Newlay Weir was badly damaged in February 2021. Photo: Mark Stevenson
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But the Newlay Conservation Society argues that almost a year on members are no clearer as to what the Environment Agency’s (EA) intentions are surrounding the structure’s future.

The EA last July asked engineering company Arup to investigate the reasons for the weir’s collapse – but has this week admitted that it is still awaiting the final report, and does not know when it will become available.

Some locals are blaming the weir’s collapse on work on installing a fish pass at the side of the historic weir, which is made of stone and wood.

High and dry: The fish pass at Newlay Weir, as photographed by Bramley History Society’s Roger Cliff in September.

Newlay Conservation Society chair Martin Hughes said he was ‘very disappointed’ with the delays and added:

“I have been chasing this monthly since last July and I’ve had a number of excuses. That it’s taken six months to get to this point and nothing seems to be happening is very disappointing.

“It’s a crying shame. Newlay is such a tranquil and beautiful area and it now has a glaring eyesore.

“This is all getting very wearing, and the community wants to know what is in the report. I urge EA to realise this and get on with publishing the report.”

The conservation society ran its own survey last summer, with 320 people taking part.

Mr Hughes said roughly 70% of respondents had wanted the weir replaced and the fish pass put back to the way it was, the remaining 30% were split between wanting to see the weir and fish pass removed completely and having the remains of the weir conserved and the fish pass removed.

Cllr Jonathan Taylor (Cons, Horsforth) shared residents’ concerns, and said he was keen that the issue wasn’t ignored by the Environment Agency.

He called for the report to be released in full to the public so residents and Leeds City Council can understand what the next steps are.

Cllr Taylor had lobbied the EA for an independent review into the weir’s collapse last year, alongside Stuart Andrew MP.

In a statement issued to West Leeds Dispatch, an Environment Agency spokesperson said:

“Since the damage to Newlay Weir in early February 2021, we have completed works to protect properties from increased risk of flooding.

“An external expert consultant has been commissioned to assess the possible causes of the collapse in more detail. It is important to note this is a complex issue and we are awaiting the report and do not have a date for when this will be available.”

Newlay Weir before the collapse.

An EA e-mail sent in December, which has been seen by West Leeds Dispatch, suggests a draft of the report exists, but EA chiefs were clarifying some points with Arup and that work on the engineering report had taken longer than anticipated. 

Leeds City Council says officers have been chasing updates monthly since the EA’s July briefing that confirmed they were undertaking the engineers’ report into the weir collapse.

In mid-December the EA confirmed they were still facing delays in receiving a finalised report, and that there had been delays due to complex clarifications, sick leave for one of the authors and also needing time for the EA to review it further. The council says further discussions will be held with the EA.

At the time of Newlay Weir’s partial collapse, work was being carried out on a £2.7 million project to install fish passes at Newlay, Armley, Kirkstall and Saltaire. The work was part of the Developing the Natural Aire (DNAire) project to allow salmon to swim up the River Aire for the first time in 150 years.

The Newlay goit situated in Rein Road, Newlay, was created in the 12th century on land given by Nigel de Horsforde for the monks to provide power for their cornmill at Kirkstall Abbey. Newlay Weir was built in about 1690 to provide increased flow of water to the goit for improved power for Kirkstall Forge.

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