Speech on Flooding

Stuart spoke in the flooding debate yesterday, to press for a meeting between Leeds MPs and the Secretary of State, and to praise the response from both the Council and his constituents. He also emphasised the importance of looking at areas that have been designated as potential development sites by the Council again, in light of the flooding. He said:

 

"My constituency is probably one of the highest constituencies in the city of Leeds, and on two sides of the valley we would probably not expect to see too much flooding. That said, on Boxing day I foolishly agreed to do the Chevin chase, which is a 7-mile run up the Chevin and along footpaths that starts near my home. We had had constant rainfall over the preceding weeks, but as we got on to Carlton Lane I was surprised to see the levels of water. Usually there is a little trickle down Carlton Lane, but this time the full width of the road was running like a river, and on top of the Chevin it was even worse. I have never seen anything like it. I knew at that point that it was going to be bad further downstream and particularly towards the city centre.

"We have had localised flooding in my area. At Guiseley retail park some shops were affected. In Horsforth, lanes were closed and the River Aire burst its banks, as it did at Rodley. Even though the localised flooding was bad, it was much worse further downriver in the constituency of the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves). As we know, the River Aire was at 3.3 metres. The retail parks were affected and flooded, as were the services that my constituents use along the busy A65, and all the trains going into Leeds and Bradford were cancelled.

"There has been much talk recently of the Leeds flood defence scheme, and it is clear that we must get this right and look at it properly. I was pleased to join my fellow MPs from the city, cross-party, in asking for a meeting with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and I was grateful yesterday to hear her commitment that we will have defences and that she will meet us. However, we must make sure that we get it right. We cannot afford for a major economic driver in Yorkshire to be at risk and for these poor people to go through such things again.

"It is also important to ensure that we get it right further downstream. In communities further down the line, such as Elmet and Rothwell and Brigg and Goole, we need to make sure that there are no unintended consequences. Upstream, what we do in areas like mine will have a knock-on effect. I have raised on many occasions my concern about plans to build on the green belt. The council is planning to build more than 70,000 homes, which means that we need to find the sites for them. In my constituency, we have built on the brownfield sites and now we have only the green belt to look at, and some of those sites are flooding now. The Ings Lane site, where 300 houses are proposed to be built, looked like a lake. In the Wills Gill gate area, where hundreds of houses are proposed, it was exactly the same picture. In Horsforth, over 700 houses are being built on the field between the A65 and the River Aire. If we are going to build there, we need to be sure that we know where that water is going to go.

"As Jennifer Kirkby, the Chair of the Aireborough Neighbourhood Forum said, the council needs to think about how the whole city works, not build on floodplains, and we need to listen to the experience of local people. Another constituent said to me that we need to be a lot smarter about the concept of mitigation of run-on from these developments, because it is not just about rates of run-off but volume. Otherwise people further down the river will be severely affected. I hope that we will learn from the experiences that we have suffered in Leeds, across Yorkshire, and across the country.

"In conclusion, I pay tribute to all the people at Leeds City Council, to the volunteers, to the businesses, and indeed to Ministers, who took the time to contact us all, and to Leeds Community Foundation for setting up an appeal that I hope people will support to help people in Leeds."