It’s just over a year since Storm Eva brought havoc to Leeds.
For those affected, it may still seem like yesterday.
– Kirkstall Road closed – along with railway links through Kirkstall;
– Linton/Wetherby bridge fundamentally damaged;
– Kirkstall electricity sub stations temporarily down;
– And misery to those personally affected as numbers of shops, businesses – and homes – were flooded by the rising waters of the Aire, Calder – and Wharfe.
Kirkstall saw some of the worst of the flooding – but here in Leeds NW, Otley did not escape.
Following criteria laid down by DEFRA, it’s calculated that the Christmas 2015 floods produced 4712 reported internal and external flooding incidents. Translated into individuals – that’s thousands of people affected.
A reminder of all this has come in the form of a Section 19 Investigation report – a requirement for lead local flood authorities to produce under the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 following a major flooding event.
Its conclusions mince no words.
“secured future investment for flood alleviation schemes is critical to reducing the likelihood of a repeat of the devastation experienced in December 2015 across Leeds”.
But the Council are still awaiting confirmation of the funding necessary to continue with phase two of the essential flood defence work.
The Leeds report is the result of more than 12 months’ work, examining all aspects of the flood: causes, impact and future recommendations. It includes extensive analysis of environmental and infrastructure data, reported incidents, and discussions with the communities and businesses directly affected. It will be presented to the Council’s executive board next week.
The report confirms the severity of the flood. The River Aire reached its highest-ever recorded level on December 27 2015, with water rising 1.2metres higher than during the Great Leeds Flood of 1886.
These levels were caused by Storm Eva adding to already-saturated ground across all three river catchments due to heavy and prolonged periods of rainfall throughout November and December 2015, with the result seeing river systems and drainage networks being overwhelmed.
The recommendations include the need for comprehensive flood protection measures for the whole River Aire catchment area, as well as for the catchment areas of the River Wharfe and the River Calder confluence.
Phase one of the Leeds Floods Alleviation Scheme, which includes moveable weirs, the first time they have been used in this country, and other measures along the River Aire from Woodlesford to the city centre in a £45million project, is due for completion this summer. Design and feasibility work is currently being undertaken on the next phase of the scheme upstream from the city centre to include the Kirkstall corridor, which was badly hit by the floods.
Among the lessons learned is the need for catchment-wide measures to help protect communities. Aside from the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme on the River Aire Upper Catchment, a range of measures are also being assessed including the introduction of natural flood management for the River Aire Lower Catchment and the River Calder around Methley and Mickletown.
An assessment is also being carried out for the River Wharfe, for possible measures to be introduced in and around Otley, which was also badly affected by the floods.
Leeds has been doing its bit.
Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) recently allocated £3.8m.
Leeds City Council has provided financial support worth over £1million to more than 700 residential properties to help with recovery since Boxing Day 2015 and also to improve future flood resilience.
For over 250 affected businesses the council and the LEP offered more than £3million of assistance and guidance including business support, business rate relief and property resilience grants.
And we’ll all remember the tremendous local community efforts – involving councillors like Lucinda Yeadon, Fiona Venner and John Illingworth.
But Leeds didn’t go it alone then – people came from far and wide to help us.
And Leeds certainly cannot do all that is necessary alone now. The Environment Agency remains the risk management authority responsible for managing risk from the rivers Aire, Calder and Wharfe.
Government funding remains essential.
Confirmation of full funding for phase two or any further investment in Leeds has yet to be received.
So the plan will be to send a copy of this ‘exceptional’ report and its recommendations directly to the Secretary of State for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) Andrea Leadsom.
‘Exceptional report’ is a point taken up by the Leader of Leeds City Council Councillor Judith Blake.
It “reiterates what we have been saying since the terrible events of Christmas 2015 – that Leeds needs and deserves comprehensive flood alleviation measures to be funded and put in place as quickly as possible.
It calls for a full catchment and three rivers approach with measures to protect all communities and businesses vulnerable to flooding, which is the only way people across Leeds will ever be fully reassured that everything has been done to reduce the chances of flooding like that ever happening again.
“It sends a very clear message to the Secretary of State, and we are very keen to continue our discussions with the government over speeding up the process to get these protective measures in place as quickly as possible.”
The report is absolutely clear on the need for government funding ‘It is also evident that there needs to be absolute clarity about funding of this work’
And what the failure of such clarity means
“until it is confirmed and the associated work undertaken a repeat of the Storm Eva event cannot be ruled out’.
So, we’re doing our bit, Ms Leadsom – over to you.
You can find out more about the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme here http://www.leeds.gov.uk/fas