Monday, August 2, 2021
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Floods Comment: Time for David Cameron to match volunteers’ spirit

So the Boxing Day floods did their worst in Leeds – and left behind a trail of mud and devastation which have ruined so many homes and businesses.

The plight of traders down Kirkstall Road in particular is a heartbreaking one. Some of them don’t have insurance to cover themselves and face an uphill struggle to get back on their feet.

The floods have also brought the best out in the people of Kirkstall and beyond. More than 600 volunteers have so far joined the clean-up and rebuild of these businesses, many putting in long hours in filthy conditions. Strangers have been helping strangers.

These people are simply heroes and heroines. They’re ordinary folk who’ve inspired us with their dedication and selflessness and it’s been genuinely moving to witness.

It was great to see the good folks at social enterprise Seagulls Paint beat the odds and reopen yesterday following their clean-up operation.

Again, good people getting back up on their feet backed with help, goodwill and old fashioned get up and go from the community.

Heck, word of Kirkstall’s flood problems have spread so far we even had Prince Andrew visit Kirkstall today!

If only the response from central Government had been as positive and dynamic as Kirkstall’s volunteers.

I’m not being political about this at all, but David Cameron could learn a thing or two from the volunteers.

Yesterday’s assertions that no flood defence schemes have been cancelled since 2010 was frankly a slap in the face for Kirkstall residents. It’s simply not true, and he must know that.

A £190 million flood defence scheme, which would have covered Leeds City centre, Kirkstall and other parts of Leeds was rejected in 2011 by the government as being too expensive.

It was replaced by a smaller £30 million scheme for the city centre in 2013. Read Isabel Hardman’s gloriously detailed take on yesterday’s Parliamentary shenanigans for more.

For the record, here’s what Mr Cameron said, word for word, while responding to a question about Leeds flood defence spending from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn:

“It is worth putting on record before we get on to flood defence investment – and I’ll cover it in full – this was the wettest December for over 100 years and actually in Leeds and Yorkshire it was the wettest December ever on record and that’s why rivers, rivers in Yorkshire, including the Aire in Leeds, was a metre higher than it’s ever been in its history. Now in terms of flood defences, no flood defence schemes have been cancelled since 2010, the investment in flood defences was £1.5bn in the last Labour government, £1.7bn in the government I led as a Coalition government and will be over £2bn in this Parliament. It has gone up and up and up and it has gone up because we run an economy where we’re able to invest in the things that our country needs.”

Yet in press briefings to journalists afterwards:

The Prime Minister also refused to say whether a new comprehensive flood defence scheme for the city would receive funding, despite being asked to do so on three separate occasions.

Here’s what Leeds North West MP Greg Mulholland thought of Mr Cameron’s assertions on Twitter:

Councillor Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds City Council, was equally frustrated. She said in a statement:

“I am astounded that David Cameron did not know that funding for a flood defence scheme in Leeds was cut by his Government in 2011. His repeated refusal to commit to funding a new comprehensive Leeds scheme is also very disappointing.

“His comments make me extremely concerned that the Government will try to put the issue into the ‘long grass’. This city needs the Prime Minister’s commitment to fund a proper flood defence scheme as soon as possible, so that we can avoid a repeat of the misery caused to residents and businesses in the city on Boxing Day.”

And we know that the floods were unprecedented (kind of – a similar one hit Kirkstall Road in the 19th century, apparently). But six years ago, Cumbria was hit by ‘unprecedented’ floods, thought to be a once-in-a-lifetime event, only to be flooded in the same way a few years later.

So strong words indeed on all sides. It’s a shame the Leeds floods have become a bit of a political football and that the inevitable blame games after the event are played out by politicians and media alike.

But Cllr Blake is right: Leeds needs the Prime Minister’s commitment to fund a proper flood defence scheme as soon as possible. Anything less is an insult to those selfless volunteers in Kirkstall.

1 COMMENT

  1. We are quite right to complain that we have inadequate flood defences, but can somebody tell me any details of the proposed scheme other than the cost?
    This is not a problem that can be solved simply by throwing money at it
    And what are the current plans?

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