Words: Richard Beecham, local democracy reporter
Leeds West’s MP has claimed some of their residents are living in fear for their homes due to the threat of flooding caused by storm Christoph – and criticised the government for “five years of dithering” over improvements to the city’s flood defences.
Flooding has already begun in some parts of the city due to rainfall from storm Christoph, with Rachel Reeves (Lab, Leeds West), claiming her constituents suffer “sleepless nights” every time there is heavy rain.
Leeds City Council’s Flood Alleviation Scheme – drawn up in the aftermath of the 2015 flood – remained £23m short of its £112m total as of summer 2020. The existing funding pot would only pay for defence work designed to protect Leeds against a one-in-100 chance of flooding in any given year, while local leaders pushed for a one-in-200 coverage.
Heavy rainfall this week now puts the River Aire and three becks in the city (including Wortley) at risk of flooding, while the Met Office has issued a severe amber weather warning.
Rachel Reeves, whose constituency covers Kirkstall and Burley, which saw some of the city’s worst flooding in 2015, said:
“We have had more than five years of Government dither and delay since the terrible Boxing Day floods that ripped through Leeds in 2015.
“My constituents continue to endure sleepless nights every time there is heavy rain as they wonder if they will face a repeat of those catastrophic floods.
“People have waited long enough and we need the Government to deliver as a matter of urgency on its long-awaited promise to properly protect Leeds and my constituents in Kirkstall and Burley.
“It is welcome that Government has said it will at last deliver the final tranche of funding needed for flood defences. However, ministers must now get on with it and deliver official confirmation that the cash is on the way so we can get homes and businesses properly protected.
“The Tories claim they want to ‘level up’, but they have done very little in more than a decade. They are still ignoring calls from Leeds City Council and MPs for the investment, support and decision-making powers that our local communities need now more than ever.”
Her sentiments were echoed by Leeds North West MP Alex Sobel, whose constituency includes Otley, which is regularly subject to flood risk.
He said: “We are five years after the Boxing Bay floods in 2015 and are still waiting for the completion of the promised flood defences.
“We simply cannot keep having winters where residents live in fear for their homes. I met last year with a group of residents who live next to the Wharfe in Otley who have seen their homes and possessions destroyed by flooding. They expect the promised flood defences to be delivered. It is about time they were.”
A spokesperson for Leeds City Council said:
“Despite the pandemic we remain well placed to respond to flooding and have been proactively messaging the public, businesses and organisations with advice and support. Council teams will continue to focus on managing and protecting our buildings and key sites. Resources and plans for this have been put in place to work within the latest Covid guidance, including teams working in bubbles and a Covid secure incident room has been opened.
“If flooding does occur and affects communities we do have plans to support people who need to leave their homes at rest centres. However, to maintain the highest levels of safety for those affected they might need to consider using hotels to avoid mixing with people outside of their bubble, rather than coming to rest centres or staying with family members.
“This will be a difficult time for those affected and we will be providing help and support where we can. Flood risk duty teams remain on shift throughout the week to monitor river levels and respond if required.”