SEWERS will remain the Achilles' heel of York's flood defences if environment chiefs fail to invest in the city's drainage system, according to a city leader.

Councillor Andrew Waller warned the ageing network will allow water to flood many areas of the city by the back door, even if better barriers are built elsewhere.

He called on the Government to face up to the massive costs involved in modernising the drainage system, and creating pumping stations to take rising water away.

Mr Waller, who is a member of the Yorkshire Regional Flood Defence Committee, but was speaking in a personal capacity, said many parts of York will be "undefendable".

He was responding to news that Government leaders will spend more than £2 million to look at better ways of tackling flooding in urban areas.

The pilot schemes, which follow the Making Space For Water consultation paper, will look at ways to cope with the pressure put on drainage systems during sudden downpours.

He said: "It is all very well having an integrated strategy between the Environment Agency and local authorities, but Yorkshire Water needs to be involved.

"The Government has ignored the huge investment that is needed in many areas to alter the Victorian pattern of drainage, and so we are left with areas of the city like Skeldergate, and Clementhorpe which are prone to flooding.

"It is more than just keeping the River Ouse at bay, because if the river does not get them, the sewers will at this time.

"I accept there is a huge investment needed, and if this were made solely the responsibility of Yorkshire Water then everyone's water bills would have to rise. But we need to face up to these costs, and work out how to share the burden."

The announcement by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs includes proposals to offer financial support to make some properties more flood resistant.

It also launched a study into risk management and a bigger role for the Environment Agency in assessing flood and coastal erosion risk.

Environment Minister Elliot Morley said: "Our new holistic approach should help to reassure the five million people at risk from flooding and coastal erosion.

"We are working hard across the Government to set in place a strategy for the next 20 years that will effectively manage the impact on people, homes and businesses, doing so in a way that benefits wildlife and the landscape."

A spokesman for Yorkshire Water said: "We work closely with all the other agencies.

"We are responsible for the sewer system and we have put a lot of investment in to that system."

Updated: 10:45 Friday, March 25, 2005