Council plans to retrieve equipment lost in River Aire after flood works pontoon broke free

The footbridge near Armley Mills was destroyed. Photo: Andrew Tutin/Climbing Labs

The River Aire was flowing at about 40mph when a pontoon broke free and destroyed a bridge as it was carried into the city centre, Leeds council has confirmed.

The local authority said plans are being hatched to retrieve the JCB digger and the equipment it was carrying when the river drops to a safe level.

While not as high as the floods caused by Storm Eva on Boxing Day 2015, the levels on the River Aire at Armley reached approximately four metres, only marginally lower than during Storm Ciara two years ago.

A council spokesperson said:

“With the second phase of works on the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme now well under way, investing a further £112.1million on flood prevention measures along the Kirkstall Corridor and upstream, measures were taken to move work equipment where possible.

“Unfortunately, due to the volume of water and speed of the river, estimated to be running at approximately 40 miles per hour, a construction pontoon broke free from its moorings and travelled downstream into the city centre.

“On its journey it badly damaged a service bridge near Armley Mills, which was due to be removed as part of the flood alleviation works, before breaking up as it reached the Dark Arches under Leeds Station.”

All footbridges and structures which the pontoon passed have been assessed and declared safe by council officers.

Weather conditions and river levels are now easing, but with further periods of extreme weather expected in the coming days all residents are advised to remain vigilant, and to check the latest information from the Environment Agency, weather and travel providers before making journeys.

Leeds City Council executive member for infrastructure and climate Councillor Helen Hayden said:

“We all remember the devastation caused by Storm Eva in 2015, and while conditions weren’t as serious this time it is very pleasing that our flood defence schemes proved effective in shielding people and properties from its impact. With extreme weather events becoming more frequent it is important we all do everything we can to be aware and keep everyone safe.

“The loss of the pontoon was unfortunate, but thankfully no-one was injured and it does serve to underline the need for us to get the second phase of the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme completed as soon as possible so we can be as protected as possible from threats like this.

“I’d like to thank everyone involved from all agencies in recent days for their efforts in very challenging conditions to keep people safe, and especially for those community volunteers and flood wardens who give up their time to help others and keep the city moving.”

Flood alerts from the Environment Agency can be set up free here along with weather warnings from the Met Office here.

Mark Stevenson captured the history of the destroyed bridge in an article this week.


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