UK – Next Phase of Leeds Flood Protection to Focus on Natural Flood Management

Next phase of Leeds flood protection plans set to be submitted to government is to have a strong focus on Natural Flood Management (NFM), with proposals to plant hundreds of trees and create new woodland areas which would more than double canopy coverage in the River Aire catchment.

The first phase of the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme has seen formal flood defences installed along the River Aire for the first time. The project began with works completed downstream in Woodlesford which proved effective during the Christmas 2015 flooding, before moving into the city centre with measures featuring the introduction of state-of-the-art mechanical weirs to control river levels.

The impact of Storm Eva in Leeds at Christmas 2015 affected 3,355 properties in Leeds, of which 672 were commercial businesses. The direct cost to the city was an estimated £36.8million, with the cost to the wider city region being more than £500million.

Phase Two

Now the next phase of the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme, including plans to plant hundreds of thousands of new trees along the catchment of the River Aire, is set to be put to the government.

At the meeting of Leeds City Council’s executive board at the Civic Hall later this month senior councillors will be asked to approve formally submitting the plans in an outline business case to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Kirkstall Corridor and Upriver

Following the successful opening of the £50million first phase of the scheme serving the city centre, Holbeck and Woodlesford in October, phase two identifies measures further upstream including the Kirkstall corridor which was badly hit by the 2015 Christmas floods.

It also looks at areas beyond the city boundary to further reduce the possibility of the river flooding in Leeds, as well as additional measures to offer protection for the South Bank area of the city centre which is a key future economic driver for Leeds.

Natural Flood Management

The phase two plans have a strong focus on Natural Flood Management (NFM), with proposals to create new woodland areas which would more than double canopy coverage in the River Aire catchment. It also proposes water storage areas to be created and developed, operated by a control gates system meaning water can be held and then released back into the river when safe to do so. A third element would be the removal of existing obstructions along the river to help reduce water levels, along with lowering the riverbed in places to improve its capacity and flow.

Aside from these measures, phase two would also see some new infrastructure measures installed including landscaping, terracing, embankments and walls, but due to the range of natural measures the height of any engineered defences would not need to be as high as originally projected, typically averaging 1.2 to 1.5metres in height.

If approved by the government the proposal created by Leeds City Council working with the Environment Agency and BMM jV Limited would see work scheduled to begin in early 2019.

Consultation has been carried out on the proposals with the public and all key stakeholders and landowners, including those in neighbouring authority areas upstream along the River Aire catchment.

Leeds City Council executive member for regeneration, transport and planning Councillor Richard Lewis said:

“Since these proposals were first outlined a lot of very positive conversations and consultations have taken place, with the ‘natural-first’ approach of using nature and the landscape to work for us to protect our communities from flooding resonating very well with people.

“As is to be expected with a proposal of this scale there are some localised issues which have been raised but we will continue to engage with people to address them. Given the level of ambition of this next phase of the scheme, which is much bigger than phase one, we are confident in now presenting the plans to Defra for formal consideration.

“Following the devastation of the floods of Christmas 2015, the government asked us to work with the Environment Agency and partners to ascertain the level of defensive measures needed to provide reassurance to our residents and businesses of what was needed to avoid a repeat. This plan has been extensively researched and developed so we look forward to working with the government to deliver it for the communities of Leeds and the wider region.”

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December 2015 floods in Leeds.