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4 October 2017, 08:16
A £50 million flood alleviation scheme opening in Leeds is the first to use new state-of-the-art moveable weir technology, according to the Environment Agency.
The project is one of the largest-ever in the UK and follows the devastating flooding which inundated parts of the city at the end of 2015.
More than 3,000 properties were flooded in the aftermath of Storm Eva as the River Aire reached unprecedented levels, prompting city council leader Judith Blake to lead criticism of a north-south divide in the Government's response to the floods.
The EA said the first phase of the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme will provide more than 3,000 homes, 500 businesses and 300 acres of development land with increased protection against flooding from the Aire and Hol Beck.
As well as 4.5km of embankments through the city centre, new moveable weirs have been installed on the river at Crown Point and further downstream at Knostrop, where a landmark new bridge has also been built.
The weir gates are supported by giant, inflatable neoprene bladders that can be lowered when high river flows are expected.
It takes around two hours for the gates to lower and their design has meant flood defence wall heights could be kept to a minimum, protecting views of the waterfront.
The design also incorporates fish passes and otter ramps, the agency said.
The EA said that weirs have previously been barriers to species such as salmon, which have recently been spotted in the Aire for the first time in 200 years.
The project has been led by Leeds City Council in partnership with the EA.
Council leader Ms Blake said: "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.
"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 Trans Pennine Trail."
EA chair Emma Howard Boyd said: "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 10 years due to the increased level of protection it provides.
"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."
Floods minister Therese Coffey said: "No one can forget the devastating flooding residents and businesses in Leeds faced two years ago.
"We know how distressing flooding is for all those affected and I'm delighted that through this new state-of-the art £50 million scheme thousands more people living and working in Leeds will be better protected.
"Our commitment to strengthening flood defences across Yorkshire doesn't stop here - we are investing £400 million over six years up until 2021 to better protect the region using the best technology and engineering available."