Leeds Dock sale: What does it mean for the future?

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News Leeds Dock is up for sale again was entirely predictable, says a leading councillor.

When I ask Leeds Councillor Richard Lewis, executive member for regeneration, transport and planning, about the sale of Leeds Dock, the area just south of the river which has for years been something of a retailer’s no-man’s-land, he seems entirely unvexed.

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Indeed, so confident does he sound about the future of the area, he’s using words like “serendipitous” and “happy co-incidence”. He describes the fact current owners Allied London have put the 1.2m sq ft site on the market for £32m (they paid £2m in 2012) as “predictable” and “expected”.

Ever since the Royal Armouries was built on Clarence Dock (as it was then known) 20 years ago, it has been something of a white elephant. As a retail space, it never realised its full potential. As a night-time destination, it felt sparse and underwhelming, with far too few attractions.

When Allied London took it on five years ago, forthright owner Michael Ingall was adamant they would turn things around. He was even undaunted when Alea Casino pulled out, following a reputed row with the council, who were allegedly demanding a 25-per-cent cut of their ‘take’. Mr Ingall characteristically quipped: “I see every setback as an opportunity.” As it turns out, it was, as Sky ended up moving in with 650 jobs.

Allied London is behind the massively successful Spinningfields development in the centre of Manchester. They wanted to do something similar with Leeds Dock but that hasn’t quite happened.

It’s no longer seen as an outpost of civilisation, it’s part of a bigger offer... the explosion of colleges has been serendipitous

Leeds Councillor Richard Lewis, executive member for regeneration, transport and planning

But Coun Lewis is in reflective mood: “It’s what developers do, they always need cash for other things and I never took the view they would be there forever. That would be foolish.

“For them, you are a place where they land. So, even if they do a portion of the stuff they promise, that’s great. Allied London have changed things for the better, so it’s not as though we feel affronted in any way. They have managed to do things no-one else has done.”

Such as?

“It never really worked since inception because there was also always that idea it should be another retail offer but it was too close to the city centre for that. As an evening destination, you would walk around and there was nothing happening. It needed someone to come in.

“When they came in, we all said this was brave of them. We looked at what they did in Manchester and we thought even then it[Leeds] was a challenge.

“They have not achieved their full vision but they have changed how it’s viewed, they have got employment in there with Sky - that’s 62,000 sq ft of office space, 650 jobs, that’s good for the city. When Google first came here, they asked us where they should go, they really liked it down there and they stayed for seven months, which brought another group of people in.

“I am not nervous about the future, I think it will go from strength to strength now. It’s about how the rest of the world changes down there now.”

And changing it is. There has already been a fortuitous explosion of new college buildings built right on its doorstep and this week contractors actually moved into the ‘eyesore’ Hunslet Mills, to begin overhauling them to create residential and retail units - that scheme alone will alter the area forever.

In addition to that, several other schemes, not least Phase 2 of the flood defence scheme, are also taking place.

“It’s work in progress,” muses Coun Lewis. “Let’s see who comes along next. I think it’s a good offer. The whole of the South Bank is changing, It’s no longer an outpost of civilisation, it’s part of a bigger offer.”

What were albatross innovations, such as the water taxis, waterfront festival and free bus service from the city centre, could soon reap larger rewards by marking Leeds Dock out as an area with a distinct personality. But does Coun Lewis think the area has evolved organically, rather than being forced to become some sort of retail hub?

“With the building of colleges down there, that has been really happy bit of coincidence, of serendipity, for the area.”

Martin Hamilton is director of Leeds Civic Trust, the campaign group which has long had an interest in improving the fortunes of Leeds Dock.

He said: “One of the weaknesses of Leeds Dock has always been that it is largely residential, so those people would be out at work during the day - where do the daytime customers come from for the bars cafes and shops?

“When [Allied London] took it on, they wanted to try make it a bit like their Manchester site which is more mixed use.

“Allied London bought it when it was struggling and they have changed the way it works. There is now more focus on daytime activity, in particular office use, and that has resulted in buildings being better occupied. This part of the city includes many brown field sites that are still to be developed, including the South Bank Framework area – which is a significant development opportunity. The more development there is in this part of the city, the more people there will either be living or working in close proximity, who will visit New Dock. If those developments happen, in five years time, New Dock be a different place again. It will stop being seem as an island that people have to travel to, and will become a destination for those who live and work nearby.”

FACTFILE

Clarence Dock, as it was formerly know, was built in 1843 to deal with traffic from the Leeds Liverpool Canal and Calder & Hebble Navigation

The first phase of the Leeds Flood Alleviation scheme, costing £50m, has been completed. Stage 2 could begin next summer. When complete, it will protect 3,000 homes and 500 businesses and over 300 acres of development land from flooding.

Contractors moved into Hunlset Mills this week to begin work on converting it into residential and retail units Clarence Dock, as it was formerly know, was built in 1843 to deal with traffic from the Leeds Liverpool Canal and Calder & Hebble Navigation

The first phase of the Leeds Flood Alleviation scheme, costing £50m, has been completed. Stage 2 could begin next summer. When complete, it will protect 3,000 homes and 500 businesses and over 300 acres of development land from flooding.

Contractors moved into Hunlset Mills this week to begin work on converting it into residential and retail units

Paula Dillon, President of Leeds Chamber Commerce.

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