The Boxing day floods in Leeds caused enormous damage – and have left a trail of heartache and distress in their wake.
Leeds North West was badly affected – people along the Wharfe were flooded, in some cases for the second time in all too quick succession. Our members in both Otley and Pool have their own tales of the horror which the flooding of homes brings – and their own stories of clean-ups and great community spirit, too.
One Leeds NW member – our secretary Doreen Illingworth – has a direct line to what happened in Kirkstall; her husband, John, is one of the councillors there, and they have an allotment in the Aire valley.
Preparing for our meeting this week, she apologised for the lateness of some papers. Her reasons why are a story it’s worth sharing.
They give a picture of the continuing effects of the floods, four weeks on. But they also tell a story of the tremendous response of volunteers – and of the Council – to this disaster.
They provide a great example of British – if not of ‘Kirkstall’ – spirit.
“I have been busy over the last couple of days. We have an allotment in the river Aire valley, at the back of the shops on Kirkstall Rd. During the floods the site was under 5ft of water, so you can just imagine the detritus washed down the river which fetched up on the site.
First priority for clearing was, of course, the shops & the – thankfully few – homes which had flooded. Now some teams can help on the allotment site. They take time to organise – & now I have to rush down and join John with our spare welly boots.”
Doreen explained what had happened:
“The site, several acres in the river valley, is home to about 20 allotments, a vegetable farmer & the West Yorkshire Probation Service’s horticultural training/community service volunteer scheme. It’s a rural gem in the middle of the city, & home to a vast array of wildlife including kingfishers & otters. The Kirkstall Councillors – John & former Cllr. Bernard Atha [both Leeds NW Labour members] – have been defending this site against greedy developers for decades.
The floods washed great quantities of debris down river, much fetching up against the trees & fences at the city end of the site, including some rugby stuff from the riverside pitches much further upstream.
The container of Probation Service equipment, reasonably watertight, & with air trapped inside, was carried over 200 metres by the force of the flood waters until it became wedged in the trees.
It’s only recently that the site has become workable for the large scale shifting of rubbish from the tree & bush line. Much more dry weather is needed before the debris in the riverside tree line can be tackled, and before a large enough vehicle can get sufficiently close to the trailer to move it back to its proper home.
What is fantastic is, that 4 weeks on, volunteer teams are still coming. On Wednesday 20th January two teams of volunteers came to help with the clean up after the floods. The initial priorities have, obviously, been the homes & businesses. Luckily very few homes in Kirkstall were flooded, but the businesses along the Kirkstall Road, & the industrial estate suffered badly. But by this week it’s been possible to turn some attention to sites like the allotments. One volunteer team was from Lloyds bank in Leeds, the other from Sheffield. The Sheffield team split in two, with half going to the design centre to help wash & clean equipment; the other came to the Burley Mills allotment site along with the Lloyds team. They spent all day working with John, allotment holders & site workers.
The clearance the teams did was fantastic. It’s being co-ordinated with the cleansing department. One vehicle was on site on Wednesday. The driver was mistaken about the solidity of the track he was on; he had set off to turn round, despite warnings. He got monumentally stuck & had to be winched to firmer ground by a tractor.
The day’s rubbish piles were collected on very firm, lorry-safe ground!
The cleansing department & the Council – particularly the liaison between the Kirkstall Councillors & Cllr Mark Dobson – deserve a lot of praise for methodically shifting the debris as it’s cleared, with very short delays.
Wednesday’s rubbish was collected Friday morning. A Council truck was on site just after 8 am, & loading started in the pouring rain.
More vehicles appeared, but only one more could be used at the same time because of the very muddy conditions. The two vehicles, their drivers & the 3 people on site quickly reduced the pile of rubbish. Another trip & the rubbish will be gone.
One sad casualty of the floods has been the bees. The boxes with their winter honey stores and dormant bees were washed away & when found, the bees were dead. About 20 hives belonging to the various allotment holders were lost. Our bee keepers have done their best to rescue the bits & pieces of their hive boxes to remake them. One found some fragments down by the boarded up “Rising Sun” near the viaduct & Yorkshire TV. He was stopped by a disbelieving policeman who was trying to prevent looting. “I’m looking for my bees & beehives” doesn’t sound very likely the day after Boxing Day! Unfortunately, the efficient Council rubbish & debris clearing quickly removed any more off-site remnants.
The sad picture comes from the hive boxes rescued on site, showing the damaged comb frames. The mild Autumn meant that the bees had built up good honey stocks for the Winter, disease / environmental resistance & the brood cells were looking good.
We’re now looking for funding sources to help with re-stocking with “nucleus colonies” – which I think is the term.”
As Doreen makes clear, volunteers are still arriving.
Help is still needed, and you can still volunteer: http://www.kirkstallcleanup.weebly.com : Kirkstall Flood Clean-up Action Room
You can get lots more information on the response to the floods in Kirkstall and about what has been happening there – at http://new.kirkstall.org.uk and on the Facebook page of Councillor Lucinda Yeadon.
Doreen has her own comments about the government’s reaction – and a few suggestions for them:
“The Tory government cancelled the flood defence scheme. In the wake of the floods, it was quick to propose a rates freeze – which would, of course mean a reduction in Leeds City Council income. But they didn’t include a rent freeze.
I would like to support a rent freeze for the businesses. Many are owned by faceless remote property companies, not Leeds-based.
Congratulations to the businesses on the Kirkstall road that have got back up and running & are open again, providing services, and jobs. But for some it’ll be a long haul, & for an unfortunate few, it will mean bankruptcy.
We must lobby to ensure that future flood defences are integrated, well planned & thought through, with as much thought put into the upland catchment area as the vulnerable flood plains. There should be no cheap, ineffective sticking plaster remedies here & there.”
Doreen’s suggestions are her own – though there are important points here that we all need to take on board.
Her picture of Kirkstall four weeks on is one we can all appreciate.
It’s a reminder of just how long the clearing of Storm Eva’s debris will take – how long its effects will be felt.
It’s a reminder of the planning government needs to undertake NOW if this kind of misery is not to be repeated.
But it’s also a real tribute to the British spirit.
As she makes clear, the help which has poured into Leeds has been amazing – from local communities, from across the city, from the council and councillors – and from far-flung places, like Sheffield!
Perhaps we need to start talking about the ‘Kirkstall spirit’ – Storm Eva certainly brought out plenty of that.