By Molly Paul
This article was written prior to the outbreak of Coronavirus in the UK and the subsequent lockdown.
A Leeds-based volunteering group is helping to clean up and prevent further storm damage by contributing to the city’s Flood Alleviation Scheme (FAS).
On 14 February volunteers met at Rein Road, Horsforth to litter pick and create natural habitats with the River Stewardship Company (RSC) programme.
The programme, which was set up after the 2007 floods, looks after the river between Appleby Bridge and Thwaites Mill.
Site Supervisor Mike Stacey said the volunteer day was successful.
He said: “We got six or seven bags of rubbish, created some dead hedges and made some stairs making it easier for us to bring more volunteers down.”
“We (the RSC) started as a volunteer organisation and from there we got contracts and we have grown exponentially.”
“The group here today is Leeds-based but we are from Sheffield, and we are starting to run volunteer days all across Yorkshire.”
Mr Stacey said that the Leeds FAS started in 2017.
“We contribute by doing evasive weed control so Giant Hogweed, Japanese Knotweed and Himalayan Bolton and we also do tree works,” he said.
“In terms of our role we will be back up to do a storm check and site supervisors will decide which part of the river to focus on in our next volunteer days.”
The Leeds City Council FAS aims to use natural flood management techniques to slow the flow of the River Aire alongside engineered works to reduce flood risks.
The River Aire reached a peak height of 5.2m compared to its average 2.12m in the Storm Eva floods at Christmas time in 2015.
The flood affected 3,355 properties in Leeds, of which 672 were commercial businesses, and cost the city and its regions an estimated £540 million to amend.
Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme fact file
- Phase One was funded through contributions from the council, Environment Agency, Defra, Regional Growth Fund, Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership, Yorkshire Water and CEG.
- Officially opened on 4 October 2017 by Councillor Judith Blake and Chair of Environment Agency Emma Howard Boyd.
- Three main elements: moveable weirs, merging of the river and canal and flood walls, glazed panels and embankments stretching more than 4.5km.
- Phase Two also includes a flagship Natural Flood Management (NFM) programme to reduce/control the flow of rainwater into the river, reducing the impact of climate change up to 2069.
- The NFM is a £500,000 pilot programme and has begun at Harden Moor, Eshton Beck and Earby.
- Other phase two works: building new walls and embankments along the River Aire, removal of obstructions to reduce water levels, creation of new woodland areas and creating a water storage area that releases water only when safe.
- Landscape and access works will benefit too. The team are looking to put in two new bridges and improve footpaths, plant a wildflower meadow, strengthen access ramp onto Kirkstall meadows/rugby pitches and ensure otters can exit the river during a flood through ramps.
- Phase Two has received an initial £65million from the Gov as well as Leeds City Council, West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Network Rail. It has also received funding support from the Leeds City Region Growth Deal through a £1 billion-plus deal.
- Advanced works have been completed in 2018 to prepare for the start of Phase Two. These include a flood wall and removal of redundant structures.
The River Aire reached its highest point since Storm Eva at the start of this year when Storms Ciara and Dennis saw approx. 300mm of rainfall, with Yorkshire towns flooded and homes evacuated.
RSC Volunteer Penny started to worry about “the river and rubbish after seeing debris left behind by the 2015 floods.”
“I saw a poster left by the RSC and took down the details – I am freelance, so one time I didn’t have work on a Friday I joined them. Since then I have tried to go as often as I can work permitting.”
“I have met lovely people, felt like I was doing something important and learnt lots, including about invasive species,” she said.
“As I am needed less by the family, I have done more, and I am trying to use what I have learnt on other local sites.”
Leader of Leeds City Council Councillor Judith Blake said that it is “very pleasing” to see people working towards the next step of the Flood Alleviation Scheme.
“Seeing work happening on the ground will hopefully give reassurance to the communities, businesses and residents in the Kirkstall Corridor and upstream that soon they will have measures in place to prevent a repeat of the catastrophic damage and pain caused by the impact of Storm Eva.”
“I’d like to say a big thank you on behalf of the city to everyone involved in dealing with the impact of the recent storms and for the clean-up which followed.”
She said: “I’d like to pay a particular tribute to all of the volunteers, community groups and flood wardens who gave up their weekends and more to help, they are amazing people and the city owes them a real debt of gratitude.”
Councillor Judith Blake said that while there was some localised flooding, the weir gates put in place by the flood scheme worked well and proved effective against the severity of the storm.
“This is why we need the government to help us complete the next phase of the scheme in full as well as supporting us to provide the best level of resilience we can across all the watercourses in the city.”
While the first phase was completed in October 2017, the second stage began in January this year and targets its completion by Winter 2022.
The Leeds City Council, who is working with the Environment Agency, aim to invest around £112 million to the scheme which will provide better protection for 1,048 homes and 474 businesses.
Second phase construction will see flood defences built on the River Aire upstream of Leeds Station to reduce flood risk nationwide.
Phase two is split into two sections.
Costing £87 million, step one provides flood protection along an 8km stretch including Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills, Kirkstall Abbey and Kirkstall Meadows.
Flood storage space will be created at Calverley using an existing flood plain and Appleby Bridge works as part of section two, which will bring the level of protection up to a one-in-200 chance of flooding in any given year.
Area flood risk manager at the Environment Agency, Adrian Gill said: “Our shared ambition is to complete both steps of this second phase of the scheme.”
“The natural flood management measures that will be delivered across the catchment upstream as part of the first step will not only help reduce flood risk but also restore and create new habitat, increase biodiversity resilience and improve water quality.”
Mr Gill said that the joint project team was delighted on starting construction works in the area which was most devastated by the December 2015 floods.
He said: “The team, led by Leeds City Council, will continue to share further detailed designs of the different zones of work with the residents, businesses and wider community of west Leeds as the construction works progress.”
The RSC volunteering group has met up since Valentine’s Day to continue flood-risk work and to improve habitats for the wildlife in line with the first section of part two.
However, all volunteer days have been cancelled until further notice due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.
Or for more information on the Leeds FAS, please visit their Twitter page @LeedsFAS, website on leeds.gov.uk or visit their regular drop in event on Viaduct Road on the last Wednesday 10am-2pm every month.