'DISAPPOINTING but understandable'.

That has been the reaction to news that a major part of Otley's £3.3 million flood defence scheme is to be delayed until next spring.

The project will include creating a new flood embankment along the west of Billams Hill along with vegetation management on the islands downstream of Otley Weir. It is designed to reduce the likelihood of the town suffering river flooding from 20 per cent - a one in five year chance - to four per cent, or a one in 25 year risk.

Work was due to begin shortly after the proposals were approved in March but the lockdown knocked things back.

Leeds City Council then announced that it was hoping to begin engineering work in October but now says that the 'next available window' won't be until 2021.

A spokesperson said: "We remain fully committed to completing this important scheme to protect Otley from the threat of flooding as soon as possible.

"Unfortunately, given the unforeseen issues caused by the coronavirus and the small window of opportunity given the need to respect and not impact on the local wildlife, we will not be able to start the engineering works now until March. We would ask everyone for their understanding and patience."

Flood risk advisor at the Environment Agency, John Woods, added: "We have worked hard to keep the scheme on track for an autumn start but the impact of current circumstances means that unfortunately this is no longer possible.

"While this news will undoubtedly cause some uncertainty for residents and businesses that were flooded in 2015, we will continue to work with them to ensure that they are as protected and resilient as possible over winter. Preparatory work will continue so that we can hit the ground running in spring."

Councillor Colin Campbell (Lib Dem, Otley & Yeadon) said: "I am disappointed that there is another delay in implementing the scheme because of the concerns it will raise with residents. However, we are currently working in difficult times so a delay may be necessary to protect those doing the work and the environment."

MP Alex Sobel (Lab, Leeds North West) said: "I appreciate that the Flood Alleviation team are navigating unprecedented challenges. That said we were told in June that, despite Covid, they expected the work to commence in September. I have written to the team to ask what specifically has changed since then which has mandated this delay.

"We cannot continue with uncertainty and anxiety around the protection of people's homes on the Wharfe. This has to be the top priority."

The project is being managed by the city council, the Environment Agency and engineering consultants WSP.