This week Judith Blake, Labour leader of Leeds City Council, met with Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss to discuss what funding and assistance the government is prepared to give Leeds for flood damage and future protection.
Leeds City Centre is still getting a £33m investment to build new defences, as agreed before the flooding and to be completed by March 2017. But the same has not been promised to flood-hit Kirkstall.
Rachel Reeves MP – who was also at the meeting – expressed concern at her understanding that a 12-mile long proposal that would protect Kirkstall is not currently even being considered.
At the Wednesday meeting between Councillor Blake, the eight Leeds MPs and Elizabeth Truss, the Environment Secretary revealed that the budget of DEFRA (and the Environment Agency) was essentially set in stone for the next 6 years.
What this means in practice is that suggestions for a £3m feasibility study, let alone flood defences in Kirkstall, are not part of the government’s current flood defence scheme intended for Leeds.
Cllr. Blake and the Leeds MPs pushed the Minister to go away and apply for further funding to be added to the Leeds scheme.
They have agreed to hold another meeting when the Minister has secured additional funding.
As Judith Blake said afterwards:
“In our meeting the Environment Secretary committed the government to giving Leeds the ‘right level of protection’ on flood defences.
“ While this is to be welcomed, there was no commitment to any additional funding to provide it, which is very disappointing.
“The government’s words now need to be translated into firm action. As a council we remain fully committed to ensuring comprehensive flood defences are in place in Leeds along the length of the River Aire, as well as the River Wharfe and River Calder catchments, as quickly as we can to avoid a repeat of the devastation over Christmas”
In a debate at Westminster on the same day Rachel Reeves reminded the Tories of the Coalition’s decision to cut Leeds flood defences in 2011:
‘In 2011, the Government scrapped the flood defence scheme in Leeds that would have protected the area from the city centre and the train station up to Newlay bridge. Had that scheme been in place, the Boxing day floods would not have had the same devastating impact on Kirkstall.’
These short-sighted cuts and failures to give support are continuing, as last week’s meeting made clear.
The Yorkshire Post called the meeting and its outcome a ‘snub’ to the UK’s third largest city – and one which demands that the Tories think again about their attitudes to the North. This is, in their view, a false economy – and we agree.
The Tories commitment to flood defences certainly rings hollow in the light of the minister’s comments.
As Rachel Reeves put it after the meeting: ‘I’m pleased with the commitment for a feasibility study, but without money these are just empty words & won’t make Leeds flood defence a reality.’
Without the funds which are needed, Cameron’s assurances of help are just so much hot air. What we need is the cold cash – and soon.