THE first of eight new high-capacity pumps has arrived at the Foss Barrier.

Environment secretary Andrea Leadsom was in the city to see engineers start to install the new equipment - which will eventually see the barrier’s pumping capacity increase from 30 cubic metres a second to 50.

Mrs Leadsom watched earlier today as the first of the old pumps was winched out of the building. In the coming weeks, engineers will gradually replace the old equipment.

She said the work should reassure people along the Foss that the Government was serious about keeping their homes safe from another flood.

Mrs Leadsom said the defences had been there for decades and had not been overwhelmed until last Christmas.

She said: “I can well understand why people continue to be very upset about it, it’s perfectly understandable.

“But the work is being done, the commitment is being taken and the money is being invested to repair and improve these flood defences.”

The Foss Barrier improvements are costing £17 million in Government investment, and have also seen the electrics upgraded and moved to make sure there is no repeat of last December, when water got into the building and threatened the controls.

The pumps should be in place by mid October, and Mrs Leadsom also spoke of the £45 million being invested in other flood defence improvements across York, and the Government’s flood resilience review which was published last week and which she said would take a much more strategic, long term view of flood defences.

Yesterday’s work showed a “really important investment in flood defences to make a serious improvement and to protect many many more people”, she added, but the Government is serious about using upstream measure and working to try to prevent flood waters getting to towns and cities like York.

Environment Agency chairman Emma Howard Boyd was also at the site. She said the progress should reassure people that if York sees the same levels of rainfall again, their homes would be protected.

She added: “We will have the ability to cope with the amount of rainfall that we saw last winter, but it is important to remind ourselves of the unprecedented amount of rainfall that we had.”

“Having said that it is also key that communities understand that we can protect them up to a certain level. There is always a residual risk that remains that they need to think about the ways they can make their houses resilient and install individual property-level measures.”

The progress was welcomed by York council’s environment chief Cllr Andrew Waller, who said it was encouraging to see the agency listening to local people like him who had been asking for higher pumping capacity on the Foss. But as a city York needs to be more prepared for flooding, he added, and needs to listen to warnings and have volunteers ready to help vulnerable people.