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£50M flood alleviation scheme operational in Leeds

The initial phase of a hugely ambitious £50M flood alleviation scheme which, in a first for the UK, employs moveable weir technology has opened in Leeds.

Phase I of the award-winning Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme relies on state-of-the-art engineering techniques and represents one of the largest projects of its kind in the UK today.

Leeds City Council has partnered with the Environment Agency to deliver the landmark scheme, which will safeguard more than 3,000 households, 500 businesses and 300 acres of development space against flood waters from the River Aire and Hol Beck. There’s economic benefit too, with 150 jobs and apprenticeships places created during its development and construction.

The scheme itself comprises three core elements; cutting-edge mechanical weirs, merging the river with the canal, and provision of flood walls and embankments spanning 4.5 kilometres through the city centre proper.

Crucially, this marks the first use of moveable weirs for flood alleviation purposes in the UK. The new weir gates are supported by giant inflatable neoprene bladders which are lowered when high river flows are imminent. It should take around two hours for the gates to lower, and it is now possible to scale flood defence walls down so as not to obscure views of the city’s pristine waterfront.

“We are delighted to see this much-needed first phase of the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme opened,” said Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds City Council. “As could be seen by the devastation at Christmas 2015, providing increased flood protection in Leeds is essential in terms of reassuring our residents and businesses, and this fantastic state-of-the-art scheme provides it for the city centre and downstream at Woodlesford.”

Ms Blake continued: “The clever use of the mechanical weirs is a brilliant idea, and they have also brought about environmental benefits with the improved river quality bringing salmon and otters, while the new bridge looks stunning offering great views of the river and beyond as part of the TransPennine Trail.”

According to Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency: “This groundbreaking scheme will not only benefit hundreds of homes and businesses in the city but it will also safeguard 22,000 jobs over the next ten years due to the increased level of protection it provides. It’s been great to see Leeds City Council and the Environment Agency working together in partnership to better protect the city – and it is one of many schemes in the Defra programme investing £430M to reduce flood risk across Yorkshire before 2021.

“We’re always looking for new ways that we can use technology to reduce flood risk so it’s exciting that this scheme is also a first for flood risk management in the UK thanks to the use of the moveable weirs which can be lowered when river levels are high. On a day-to-day basis, people won’t even know they are being protected, and they can enjoy the river which is a key aspect of the city’s South Bank regeneration plans.”

Flood alleviation along the River Aire is now complete, though the Hol Beck works will continue on into the autumn months.

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