Ed Lines: Kirkstall flood defence consultation U-turn welcome – but scheme needs improving

26 January 2019

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The lack of consultation surrounding long-awaited flood defences along the banks of the River Aire in Calverley, Kirkstall and Burley have been a big talking point in recent weeks. In the first of a regular ‘Ed Lines’ column, West Leeds Dispatch editor John Baron gives his take on the issue…

It should go without saying that the plans for flood defences down the Kirkstall Valley and beyond are absolutely essential if a reoccurence of the devastation on Boxing Day 2015 is to be avoided.

The total cost is expected to be about £112 million and the planning application is huge: 2,265 pages of maps and drawings in 78 separate files, or 365 MB of data.

The application was submitted on 5 December and the original deadline for comments was Christmas Day. Coupled with a distinct lack of meaningful consultation on a scheme so big and important, you could see why so many local groups joined together to voice their frustration.

So it was a pleasant surprise to discover that the Council has relaxed the deadline and comments can now be submitted anytime up the Plans Panel decision on the proposals, expected in March 2019.

It came as a surprise as the council hasn’t taken steps to let ordinary Joe Public know that you can still comment on the plans. Indeed a council statement issued to the West Leeds Dispatch last week intimated they wouldn’t reconsider the deadline.

So I guess it’s up to us to put it out there – you can view AND COMMENT on the proposals here. Good luck with wading through it all!

I also understand Kirkstall Neighbourhood Forum’s Annual Meeting will also discuss the proposals on Wednesday, 30 January 2019 starting at 7.30pm. We’ll be running a full preview of the meeting, which will be held in Leeds Postal Sports Association Club, Beecroft Street.

While the scheme is essential, there is some concern that the environmental impact on the riverbank wildlife and ecology needs looking at again. The area will also lose a lot of trees. While flood defences are essential, it’s important we have the right scheme for the area.

Perhaps better public consultation ahead of the planning application being submitted would have teased this out. We’ll keep our eyes on what people are saying over the next couple of months, but I have a feeling this one’s not going away.

It’s important local voices are heard on such an important issue – no matter how politically sensitive the plans are.

Leeds City Council has been savvy dealing with the Government – council leader Judith Blake announced in September a “pragmatic two-step solution” to provide flood protection measures – even if the city wasn’t backed as much by Whitehall as it should have been.

Using £65 million government funding and backed by council and other financial support, work is due to begin this year to deliver an initial one-in-100-year level of protection. This will then be upgraded to the full one-in-200-year level with a further phase of work after the remainder of the funding has been secured (from somewhere).

And if you’re in any doubt that the government has committed the £65 million, this rebuke to the Yorkshire Post by Defra should clear up any confusion. But again, we’ll keep an eye on it.

Let’s hope the council is as savvy when it comes to listening to the views of its own citizens, particularly those who have to live with the defences on their doorstep.

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