Leeds council leader urges action over 'north-south floods divide'

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The council leader in flood-hit Leeds has said the Government needs to act now to stop what she sees as a north-south gap in support for prevention schemes.

Judith Blake was assessing the damage caused in the city centre and other areas by the River Aire after what she called a "preventable disaster" for Leeds.

Ms Blake said a flood prevention scheme for the city was ditched by the Government in 2011.

And the Labour councillor contrasted the response to floods in the North of England with what happened following the inundation of parts of Somerset last year.

Asked if she saw the situation in terms of a north-south divide, she said: "I think we're beginning to feel that very strongly.

"At that time there were other flooding events in the North that didn't get anywhere near the support that we saw going into Somerset."

Ms Blake said 200 homes had been flooded in Leeds over the last few days and more than 400 businesses were affected.

She said that, in response to very high river levels during the 2007 floods, a scheme was drawn up to protect the whole of the city from the River Aire.

But, she said, the Government pulled the funding in 2011, leaving the council to fund just the first phase of the project, in the city centre.

She said: "I think there's a real anger growing across the North about the fact that the cuts have been made to the flood defences and we'll be having those conversations as soon as we are sure that people are safe and that we start the clean-up process and really begin the assess the scale of the damage."

She said: "So there are some very serious questions for Government to answer on this and we'll be putting as much pressure on as possible to redress the balance and get the funding situation equalised so the North get its fair share."

Ms Blake urged the Prime Minister and Communities Secretary Greg Clark to come to Leeds to discuss the flood prevention situation.

She said David Cameron should "come and see the situation for himself and to understand that there was a scheme in place, on the table, that his Government pulled in 2011.

"We want answers to that and we want to know, most importantly, what action he is going to put in place to make sure that this type of situation cannot unfold again."

Clear-up operations were continuing in the city centre and along Kirstall Road on Monday.

But the dramatic scenes which saw the major artery turned into a fast-flowing river were gone and roads were being reopened after cleaning lorries removed sludge from the carriageways.

Among the ongoing pumping operations was an attempt to clear the flooded main rail route out of Leeds at Kirkstall Bridge.

Ms Blake said there were still concerns about the weather later this week.

She said: "We are very concerned, though, that the weather forecast is not looking good for later on this week so we'll be incredibly vigilant - ordering more sandbags, all the things you would expect us to do in case things become worse again."