It’s been nearly a year since the River Aire broke its banks and left parts of Kirkstall under several feet of cold and muddy flood water. Here, ANNA RILEY looks at how the floods have brought the community together, the work of volunteers part of the clean-up effort and how affected businesses have fared. What does the future hold for Kirkstall?
“Some businesses still working to re-open”
Almost one year on from the Kirkstall floods, many businesses in the community are still picking up the pieces from the devastation wreaked by Storm Eva last Boxing Day.
So why was the flooding so bad? Well, the Met Office released figures showing that December 2015 was the wettest since records began, and was the worst to hit parts of the country in 70 years.
The River Aire in Leeds reached record levels according to the Environment Agency, with nine severe flood warnings in place and many of the businesses flooded in Leeds last Christmas were down Kirkstall Road. Power was lost to business premises and homes and property was left swimming and ground floors of buildings were ruined.
Many Leeds residents rallied together on 27 December to help one another fight back against the floods. However, Kirkstall has still not yet recovered, with some businesses still working to re-open.
Regeneration hub launches
To remedy the mess made by the flooding, a public flood information centre called The Team Kirkstall Regeneration Hub, on Kirkstall Road, has been set up by Phil Marken of Open Source Arts, the Environment Agency, Leeds City Council and BAM Nuttall, who are working in partnership to deliver a flood alleviation scheme for the city.
The hub aims to make Kirkstall a better place to live and work and gives flood support to those affected by flooding or worrying about it happening in the future, as well as giving people a voice on how the area can become more resilient against future threats.
Team Kirkstall Regeneration Hub was opened its doors as a drop in centre in Hasan’s Restaurant – which is still closed as a result of the floods – by council leader Cllr Judith Blake. She said:
“People can come here to get updates and information and will hopefully not be visiting as a result of other incidents of the same magnitude as last year.
“The drop in centre will be giving additional support and resilience to all those people that have been affected by the floods.”
The opening of the Hub came as a result of the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme securing £3.8 million funding for the centre to help reduce the risk of flooding in the city centre by increasing the current standard of protection.
The complete scheme has cost £50million and is led by Leeds City Council in partnership with the Environment Agency.
Cllr Blake praised the work of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP) who have provided the majority of the funding to offer greater flood protection:
Phil Marken, of Open Source Arts Ltd, has been instrumental in leading the flood project.
His business was affected by the flooding, but he has decided to work to re-open rather than moving to premises elsewhere. Phil said:
“I couldn’t think of a better place to work than Kirkstall – I love the diversity of the area.”
He said the Team Kirkstall Hub is the next step for Open Source Arts, to help regenerate Kirkstall after the floods. Phil added:
“The whole community are invited to come and share their thoughts about what makes Kirkstall a great place to live and work, and what would make it even better.
“Thanks to the volunteers and local people who helped clean up after Boxing Day, and who have got stuck in with the fortnightly clean-ups this summer, we are a much stronger and more active community than 12 months ago. This centre gives people the chance to have a real say about the future regeneration potential in their community – as well as information and giving input to the second phase of Leeds’ flood alleviation scheme.”
Advice was given by Phil on how businesses still blighted by the flooding can continue in their efforts to get back up and running:
Social media and word of mouth played a great part in gaining volunteers to help in fighting back against the floods. The Team Kirkstall volunteer-led clean-up programme has so far involved more than 150 volunteers spending around 1,500 hours removing more than 12 tonnes of waste and flood debris from the River Aire.
The team have worked together to become aware of their role as residents of the riverbank, making improvements, becoming better prepared and ultimately improving the local area for people and wildlife, whilst reducing future flood risk.
When asked about what the secret was in getting volunteers Phil revealed it was all about taking care of them when they help out, so that they come back. He often arranges social events for the volunteers so they can bond and reflect on the progress they have made.
“Kirkstall’s amazing community spirit”
Kirkstall councillor Lucinda Yeadon has played a leading role in the clean-up effort, helping to bring the community together in the immediate aftermath of the floods. She said:
“I worked with Phil in a military style operation to fix things up after the floods. The community spirit in the area and generosity across the country was amazing. People from all over England helped out – a man even drove a van full of donated supplies up to us all the way from the West Midlands.
“I referred to the effort in Kirkstall during the festive period as ‘It’s a Wonderful Life in wellies.’
“It’s time for reflection as we are nearly a year on. I think it is important that we recognise that what happened last year was absolutely devastating for the community, but that how we responded should be recognised. It was incredible.
“Looking forward, we need to think about how we next respond to a threat and how we can be more resilient.”
Sheesh Mahal still closed
Asram Chaudhry, owner of Sheesh Mahal and Hasan’s on Kirkstall Road, had both his properties devastated by the floods and still remain unopened, as building work is yet to be finished.
He lost a lot of money in the floods and had difficulties with insurance which slowed down the re-opening, but really benefited from the help of volunteers who cleared his curry houses of sewage.
Asram says his customers are like his family and wants to stay in the Kirkstall area despite the flooding, in contrast to other businesses such as Thoroughbred Covers who have moved away and 127-year-old Duffield Printers, which closed after more than 120 years:
The excellent work of the volunteers continues during the next flood clean up, starting again on 18 February 2017.
“Flood risk combined with sporting road closures …”
Matt Pedder, owner of Tyrannosaurus Pets on Kirkstall Road also spoke of his business’s experiences in the floods and is still considering whether or not to move premises:
Looking to the future
So what does the future hold for Kirkstall? The floods have undoubtedly brought the community together and galvanised community spirit in the area. Hundreds of volunteers have spent thousands of hours helping Kirkstall businesses and residents clean up after the devastation. Kirkstall is a much stronger and more active community than 12 months ago
But the future of some businesses is still uncertain some 12 months after the floods hit.
The Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme is being developed through a partnership between Leeds City Council and the Environment Agency and is split into two phases.
While Phase 1 focuses on work in the city centre, Phase 2 of the scheme will adopt a catchment-wide approach which means the entire River Aire catchment area will be considered looking at combining natural flood management measures and engineered options. This could include options such as creating storage in the upper catchment, building woody debris dams to slow the flow and looking at land use and drainage. Engineered options could include raising and building walls and embankments, flood storage areas and bypass channels.
Preparatory planning on the second phase of the scheme is already underway after the Environment Agency and Leeds City Council recently awarded a contract for design and feasibility work to BMMjv (a joint venture between BAM Nuttall and Mott McDonald with support from Arup and Thomas McKay).
The primary aim of the second phase is to reduce the risk of flooding from the River Aire in Leeds including the areas of Kirkstall and Stourton.
Kirkstall councillors Lucinda Yeadon, Fiona Venner and John Illingworth (Labour, Kirkstall) said thay were hoping for a drier Christmas this year. In a statement, they said:
“Almost one year after the Storm Eva floods and we are still overwhelmed by the community spirit shown by volunteers, many of whom are still giving up weekends to help join us with the Kirkstall clean ups.
“The Kirkstall Regeneration Hub will be a great place for local people to talk, discuss and look into what is happening in the area. The work with Open Source Arts means we know it will be interactive and exciting. We’re delighted it is opening now and we hope for a drier, happier Christmas this year!”