A LACK of cash has forced the multi-million pound flood alleviation scheme for Skipton to be put on hold.

Work on the £13.8 million project to protect the town from floods was due to start before Christmas.

But Environment Agency chiefs admit they have so far failed to fill a "funding gap" of £1.2 million for the scheme, which is intended to reduce the risk of flooding to around 500 homes and businesses.

The planned works include the creation of two water storage areas to limit the flow of Eller Beck and Waller Hill Beck through the town centre and would be sited at Skipton Golf Course and near Elsey Croft off Otley Road.

Land for a new supermarket and other shops would also be "freed up" by the flood scheme.

Developers Henry Boot have pressed ahead with plans for the mixed business and retail Wyvern Park, including a major Sainsbury's store, on a 58-acre site between Waltonwrays cemetery and Sandylands sports centre.

The flood project was announced in 2012 with £8.8 million from the Environment Agency and £1.7 million from Defra. Craven District Council, North Yorkshire County Council will also make contributions to the overall cost.

But, Environment Agency chiefs say, in spite of talks with various businesses and other potential contributors, a further £1.2 million needs to be found.

Adrian Gill, the agency's flood risk manager, insisted that the scheme had not been cancelled.

He said: "Work will continue to identify external funding sources and the Skipton scheme will go ahead when sufficient money is available,

"We are obviously disappointed that the work has been delayed but can assure the people of Skipton that we will explore all possible opportunities and I remain confident that this scheme will progress at the earliest possibility. We are hopeful that we will be able to start the work in the New Year."

Skipton has a long history of flooding as a number of watercourses from the surrounding hills can swell quickly after heavy rain. In 1979 an elderly woman died when large parts of the town were under four feet of water following a deluge which had only lasted two hours.

Hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage was caused then, and there have also been several other instances of serious flooding in the following years.

Meanwhile, Skipton MP Julian Smith has written several letters to the Environment Agency asking to be kept up to date with the progress of the scheme.

In a reply from the Environment Agency's chief executive Dr Paul Leinster, Mr Smith was told: "We had hoped that the outstanding funding gap of £1.2 million would be met by other partners. Unfortunately, these funds have not been secured, with Wm Morrison Supermarkets, who are one of the main beneficiaries of the scheme, having confirmed that they will not be making any financial contribution.

"We are currently working with Craven District Council to submit a joint bid to the North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership to secure the necessary funding from their Local Growth Deal fund, which has recently received additional funding from government. We will be submitting this bid at the end of October."

Craven District Council chief executive Paul Shevlin said it was "very disappointing" that the work was not going ahead soon, but there was optimism that that the Environment Agency would manage to get the cash.

"This is obviously a very important project for Skipton so we need it to go ahead as soon as possible."

A spokesman for Henry Boot said: “It is disappointing to hear that the Flood Alleviation Scheme has been delayed as we believe it will deliver major benefits for existing residents and businesses, in addition to aiding the future growth of the town. However, the Wyvern Park proposals are unaffected by this decision as our own scheme is not reliant on the Flood Alleviation Scheme to progress.”