Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves has accused Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss of ignoring the North after the minister refused to visit the site of urgently-needed flood defences in Leeds.
Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves and Leeds City Council leader, Councillor Judith Blake, wrote to Chancellor Philip Hammond in May to urge him to come to the city to discuss the project and its funding.
In their letter, they said Kirkstall has endured some of the “worst flooding on record” due to the Boxing Day 2015 floods.
The pair called on the Chancellor to visit Leeds to see plans for Phase 2 of the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme (LFAS) and talk about including the £23.3 million shortfall needed to fully protect the area from future floods in his next Comprehensive Spending Review.
So far, the Government has committed £65 million towards the LFAS scheme, but a £23.3 million shortfall remains, leaving homes and businesses in Kirkstall still facing the “brutal reality” of future floods.
However, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss has replied to say she is too busy to make time to visit Leeds to discuss flood defences.
In her response, the Treasury Minister said:
“Unfortunately, due to diary constraints, I am unable to offer a date to visit the scheme at this time. I will ask my office to ensure that they reach out when I am next in the area.”
Ms Truss, who is the MP for South West Norfolk, also dodged the issue of whether the Government would honour its pledge to provide the anti-flood defences that Leeds needs by earmarking the cash in the next review of public finances.
Her reply was condemned by Rachel Reeves, who said:
“The idea that Treasury Minister Liz Truss is too busy to visit Leeds is an appalling snub to the North and everyone who suffered due to the floods.
“For all its talk of the Northern Powerhouse, this Government does precious little when it comes to taking action or committing funds to help the region.
“It is very disappointing that Minister failed to make any mention in her response of the Government’s next Comprehensive Spending Review which could provide the money needed to fully fund the flood defences.”
Cllr Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds City Council, said:
“We are incredibly disappointed that the Minister has declined to visit Leeds for the foreseeable future. We will continue to put pressure on the Minister, or whoever succeeds her in the role, to honour the commitments made to provide the funding for flood defences Leeds needs and deserves.”
In her letter, Ms Truss said:
“The Government takes flood risk very seriously. That is why we’re investing £2.6bn over six years in our flood capital programme in order to better protect 300,000 from flooding by 2021.
“I welcome the pragmatic approach by Leeds City Council and ongoing business case development. I encourage you to continue to engage with the Environment Agency and Defra.”
Initial plans for flood defence measures along the Kirkstall Valley were last month given the go-ahead at a planning committee meeting in Leeds.
New flood defence walls and embankments will be constructed as part of step one of the second phase of defence work, providing a 1-in-100 year level of flood protection.
Step two of the scheme – which is yet to be approved – would offer an additional 1-in-200 year level of protection and would defend Kirkstall against the level of flooding experienced following Storm Eva on Boxing Day 2015. The Government have not yet committed the funds necessary to move forward with this part of the project.
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