Juliette Bains: Jury is still out on whether Dock site will flourish

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Putting my hands on a huge pile of fake dinosaur poo wasn’t quite how I imagined I’d be spending my summer.

However, it turned out to be one of the highlights of the year.

Alongside the Velociraptors and an enormous T.Rex, the giant dino dump formed one of the more popular attractions at the Dino Jaws exhibit.

The three-month monster display came complete with animatronic dinosaurs and stomped into Clarence Dock earlier this year and, to be honest, it was one of the few times I’ve actually seen a bit of a buzz down that side of town.

Families really made the most of it, with many also visiting the Royal Armouries next door as well.

One of the remaining restaurants left nearby was packed to the rafters and actually had to turn people away.

It was great to see this part of the city thriving, packed full of people like it deserves to be every week.

But as we all know, it’s not really been plain sailing for Clarence Dock.

Apart from the annual dragon boat race and the odd superhero event at the Royal Armouries, it’s struggled to pull in the big crowds, and a development that initially promised so much has increasingly become a ghost town of late.

With shops moving out, restaurants and the casino closing and a general failure to tempt people that far out of the city centre, it’s fair to say that Plan A didn’t really work out.

That has, of course, cast something of a shadow over what was the jewel in Clarence Dock’s crown – the Royal Armouries.

And sadly, figures released last week by Visit England showed that visitor numbers at the Armouries have fallen by almost 20 per cent in the past five years.

The same figures showed that this wasn’t a trend typical of all the city’s museums and galleries, with Leeds City Museum and Lotherton Hall seeing a decent rise in the number of people through the door.

That can really only mean one thing – that the rot which has set in at the rest of Clarence Dock is starting to spread to what should be one of the city’s star attractions.

I’ve always flown the flag for the Armouries, and still believe we’re lucky to have such an impressive museum in Leeds that offers such a range of events and exhibits for free.

But there’s no denying that without free parking and transport links and with little else to entice people to this completely stranded and disconnected part of the city, it will continue to struggle to draw the crowd it needs.

It’s almost like it’s own island – sitting isolated from the rest of Leeds, and whilst other attractions seem to be riding a wave of tourism, the Armouries is being left high and dry.

Officials at the museum say Government spending cuts must also share some of the blame for the drop in punters, and say they’re already coming up with new ways to win people back.

But there’s unlikely to be any significant cash injection from Westminster any time soon, which begs the question that, however creative museum management get, how can you offer more with less?

Some people are pinning their hopes on the new developers of Clarence Dock – now renamed Leeds Dock.

Allied London, which is behind Manchester’s successful Spinningfields development, bought the site in 2012 and vowed to make it a vibrant, must-visit destination, with tiered grass banks, entertainment and construction to turn the Alea casino building into state-of-the-art offices.

In theory, this would get the footfall it needs but it still doesn’t address the elephant in the room – accessibility.

I’ve not seen much of a fuss being made down there yet, and while these plans are in motion, the Royal Armouries stays stagnant.

All we can hope is that the new developers know what they’re talking about and will be the Armouries’ knights in shining armour.

City shines bright during Light Night

WE are lucky to have so many annual events we can trundle along to in Leeds.

Take, for instance the Christkindelmarkt, the Christmas light switch on, Leeds Festival, Classical Fantasia and Party in the Park (RIP), to name just a few.

But there was one right on my doorstep that I’d never taken advantage of.

And this year that was about to change.

Light Night came around last week and, after attracting a staggering 30,000 people last year, I thought it was about time I got involved too.

And I was very glad I did.

Last friday after work I toddled around Leeds clutching my Light Night map taking in all the sights and sounds, from dancing zombies (not sure what they had to do with lights) and a squishy sculpture park at Trinity Leeds to a parked-up tram and full choir serenading passersby on Briggate.

Not to mention the star of the show – the Theatre of Illumination at the Civic Hall.

It was pretty impressive, with booming sound effects echoing around Millennium Square and shadows and animations cast over the face of the huge, imposing building.

OK, some of the events were better than others, but there were 50 to choose from, and it created a genuine buzz and a sense of excitement across the city centre that I hadn’t seen before.

It felt like you were part of something special – something special to Leeds – and it was a little bit magical.

It’s just another glowing event to add to the list of things that really make Leeds shine.

Crazy new idea could make felines fashionable

For those of you that have read this column before, you will know I am quite the cat fan.

Being a fan of the feline world has never really been seen as ‘cool’, in fact it’s quite the opposite.

For example, when you explain you have to dash home because you forgot to feed the cat, or reveal that your only plan tonight is to snuggle on the sofa with the four-legged furball, you get a funny look.

It’s the look that says, ‘You’re one whisker away from turning into one of those crazy cat ladies who lives with a large brood of felines, throwing things at passersby from the doorstep and scaring local schoolchildren’.

Oh yes, it’s a look I’ve had to laugh off on several occasions.

But thanks to a new magazine, that could be about to change.

‘Puss Puss’ magazine is a high-end, sleek offering, with feline-based fashion photography, images of famous(ish) models showcasing their furry friends, writing, interviews and more.

It’s set to be a mixture of cats and couture, and (much to my disappointment), there won’t be a naff cat outfit in sight.

So, breathe a sigh of relief feline fans, because it’s starting to be cool to love cats.