STANDING on top of what will soon be Leeds’ new John Lewis store, an impressive panorama unfolds in front of us.
From up here, a picture begins to emerge of just how the £150m Victoria Gate scheme will eventually come together – and what a game-changing development it really is.
The YEP was given exclusive access to the eagerly-anticipated scheme as the number of workers on site reaches 150 – the highest number since the project began in April 2014.
After climbing up several storeys of scaffolding to reach the roof, the view is well worth the effort.
For crane supervisor David Griffiths, the stunning urban landscape is something he gets to enjoy every day.
“You get some of the best views of Leeds up here,” he says.
“I’m not scared of heights but you have to have a respect for them.”
Speaking about the project, he adds: “With what’s in the pipeline for this area it sounds like a good rejuvenation for this end of town.
“It’s good to see it actually coming to life now.”
To the untrained eye – and those who may be strolling past each day – it may just look like a building site.
But for civil engineer Peter Gallagher, the vision of what will be one of Leeds’s most ambitious ever retail sites is becoming more real every day.
Peter, who works for contractor Robert McAlpine, clearly has a passion for his job, as he shows us around the site eager to show off every detail.
Having been with the company for 14 years and worked on projects including the Millennium Dome, he’s no stranger to creating something special.
“It will hopefully become an extension of the city centre, going through towards Quarry Hill and linking up footfall from the market and the bus station as well,” he explains.
“The idea is to retain the street feel of Leeds’ shopping arcades.
“The car park will be the last phase of the project, as it’s a bit more simple. It’s kind of like Meccano – it should be quite quick to put together.”
Once finished, Victoria Gate will be home to two arcades – a north and a south arcade with around 30 retailers – as well as a casino, restaurants, a multi-storey car park and a flagship John Lewis store complete with rooftop restaurant.
The number of workers on the site should peak at 250 in February 2016, as retailers come in to fit out their shops.
The scheme is due to open in Autumn 2016, and is expected to be on time despite a few problems.
Two construction workers were injured in May and there were teething problems with the steel work.
There were also issues when the water table was hit during demolition, as the Ladybeck culvert runs next to the car park site. But these issues have been overcome and now the scheme is well underway, things seem to be going smoothly.
With such a complex scheme, it’s been somewhat of a learning curve, as chief engineer Roger Smart explains: “Shopping centres are always the most challenging. But it’s rewarding when you take down derelict buildings and create something new.
“It’s a complicated building. What’s interesting about it is that nothing is perpendicular.
“Some of it has been a right pain to build!”
The next stage will be the cladding for the John Lewis store, which arrives next week.
Peter added: “That will be my favourite part.
“It’s so different and the way the light catches it will be really effective.”
There’s still some way to go but as more pieces continue to slot into place, Leeds can look forward to an exciting new chapter in the city’s retail history.