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Background to the Aire Resilience Company (ARC)

Our Story

On Boxing Day 2015, Storm Eva, a 1 in 200-year storm brought major flooding across Leeds and its surrounding areas. Over 4000 homes and 2000 businesses were flooded. In excess of £500m damage was caused, not to mention the immeasurable impact on people’s lives and livelihoods.  

This was not a one-off event, flooding is evident throughout Leeds’s history and more recently, Storm Ciara resulted in severe flooding across the region in 2020, whilst in 2023 Storm Gerrit caused the cancelling of some rail services into Leeds due to flooding.

Leeds has not stood still in the face of this flood risk; the £165m+ Environment Agency funded Leeds Flood Alleviation scheme (LFAS) will be completed within the next year. Designed to protect Leeds in the event of another storm of the magnitude of Storm Eva, this hard-engineered scheme uses concrete and steel defences to protect the city centre against flooding during periods of heavy rainfall. Already, these defences have been mobilised on several occasions to minimise the impact of very high river levels on Leeds’ infrastructure, business and communities.

Despite their design including an allowance for increased volumes of water due to climate change, there is a limit to how much additional water the LFAS defences can manage before they are at risk themselves of being overwhelmed.

Climate change modelling carried out on behalf of LFAS tells us that by 2069, a storm equivalent to Storm Eva on Boxing Day 2015, will send 8% more water rushing through Leeds at its peak. Even less violent storms in the future will bring much increased amounts of water compared to now.

LFAS has been planting trees and improving land management in the Upper Aire in order to lower the ‘peak flow’ of water passing through Leeds during extended periods of heavy rain. This nature-based approach enables the landscape to intercept and better absorb heavy rainfall, slowing it down and preventing it from running straight off the land and into the river system. To protect Leeds and the surrounding area against the impact of climate change will require a large scale approach to be taken to install sufficient measures, and to make sure they are in the right places in the Aire Valley to have the greatest effect.

However, there are not sufficient monies available to complete this work AND to make sure that these measures, when in place, are properly maintained and replaced when necessary. Climate change brings a long-term challenge and we must develop long-term approaches to managing its consequences. This means if Leeds and the Aire Valley are to build resilience against the impact of climate change on the risk of flooding, there is a crucial role for businesses based in Leeds to be a part of the plan if we are to achieve the scale of delivery necessary.

Aire Resilience Company (ARC) has been developed, based on the successful delivery of similar projects in England (including on the River Wyre in the North West). We have built an innovative and sustainable approach to delivering improvements in the landscape that will reduce the risk of flooding in Leeds whilst achieving significant benefits to the businesses and communities involved. Supported by Leeds City Council, the Environment Agency, and the Regional Flood and Coastal Committee (RFCC), the project has built a strong business case and finance model based upon a compelling evidence base underpinned by comprehensive hydrological modelling of the Aire Catchment.

The role of the Aire Resilience Company (ARC)

ARC will be established as a not-for-profit, Community Interest Company (CIC). All of the monies paid into it will be used to deliver its objectives.

ARC will blend public and private finance to facilitate the large scale delivery of a nature-based, natural flood management scheme in the Upper Aire above Leeds.

ARC’s core purpose will be as a mechanism to enable this delivery of nature-based solutions to mitigate against the impact of climate change, primarily flood risk.

This approach empowers local business to take a proactive step in securing its business continuity, reducing the risk of flooding, and achieving green ESG and CSR ambitions within a local context.

ARC’s financial model ensures there is long-term maintenance of the NFM assets, and an adaptive management approach to respond to future developments.

Working with local farmers and landowners, along with local delivery partners, ARC will support the local economy by ensuring the monies used are kept within the region, supporting local jobs and industries, and maximising the value realised through their use.

The significant reduction in flood risk created through the combined ARC and Leeds FAS schemes will ensure that Leeds remains a thriving centre for business and growth in the future.

ARC’s delivery is based on extensive hydrological modelling of the Aire Valley. Using this data will ensure delivery is targeted and efficient, to achieve the greatest and most reliable outcomes.