A ROW has erupted over a delayed scheme to save and restore one of Leeds’ most historic buildings.
Leeds Civic Trust chiefs have claimed the company which owns the Grade II* listed First White Cloth Hall on Kirkgate, which dates back to 1711, have failed to protect it from the elements.
They claim the city will lose its most important historic building at risk if English Heritage and Leeds City Council allow further delay in carrying out a renovation project.
The civic society said £1m has been available towards renovation of the hall since last year, thanks to Heritage Lottery Funding along with cash from English Heritage and Leeds City Council.
Dr Kevin Grady, director of Leeds Civic Trust, said: “The First White Cloth Hall should be one of the jewels of Leeds ‘heritage.
“Leeds City Council would like to take an option to acquire the building and produce a scheme for its future but 18 months on this has not been achieved. Meanwhile, the building is rotting because it has been inadequately protected from the weather. Frankly, Leeds Civic Trust is exasperated. Owners of listed buildings have a responsibility to maintain them, whilst the public authorities with the support of English Heritage have a statutory responsibility to ensure that listed buildings are protected.”
Paul Geary , project co-ordinator for First White Cloth Hall owners, Leeds-based City Fusion Ltd, said the building was made weather-tight, adding: “Until 2005 nothing could be done with it because it wasn’t in single ownership.”
He said the building will cost up to £2m to restore and will then only be worth around £1.25m. He added: “Somebody has got to raise some further grant money because you cant raise commercial money because it’s not viable.”
He said the regeneration of the First White Cloth Hall must be looked at as part of the wider regeneration of Kirkgate.
He said Leeds City Council are best placed to negotiate grants to restore the White Cloth Hall while City Fusion Ltd deals with regenerating neighbouring buildings.
ALeeds City Council spokesman said: “We have agreed a programme with the funders and have secured a licence to do enabling works to make the site safe and carry out surveys, including archaeological recording.
“The next significant step is to conclude the options, lease and development agreement before the end of the year which will give the council the opportunity to take a lease and carry out restoration work.”
They added: “Although we understand concerns over the future of such an historic site, we are working towards the goal finding a sustainable new use and restoring this important listed building.”
An English Heritage spokeswoman said: “English Heritage will be offering a grant within the next 21 days to fund a building condition survey, archaeological recording and a Conservation Management Plan and are dedicated to working towards a sustainable future for this fascinating piece of Leeds’ history.”