How do you solve a problem like Leeds?

Neil Owen talks at the meeting on the future of Leeds at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.
Neil Owen talks at the meeting on the future of Leeds at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.
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Experts have painted two contrasting visions of Leeds in the future.

One as the UK’s top city by 2030 -– or a dysfunctional metropolis with many problems.

Four prominent thinkers were brought together at the West Yorkshire Playhouse by Leeds Salon, a discussion group.

Chairman Paul Thomas said Leeds had the potential to be a great city – but how would it realise that vision?

Martin Dean, who heads the Leeds Initiative, said it was putting together a new vision for the city and 200 community groups had been consulted.

There was strong support for the notion of Leeds becoming the best city in the UK, he said.

Mr Dean told the meeting at the Leeds theatre on Wednesday that the city was “dynamic, a pleasant place to live, and every community a success”.

A big message from the feedback was that everyone should help each other.

But Dr Rachael Unsworth, a University of Leeds lecturer, warned: “I don’t think the future is great unless we take seriously the challenges of climate change, resource restraint and economic vulnerability.

“These will make really serious changes to our way of living and leisure time and there is a need to reduce the disparity between the prosperous and less prosperous.”

She said the city could be faced with an influx of migrants escaping the effects of climate change.

“It is likely,” she went on, “that Leeds will not have a modern transport system in the foreseeable future, unless entrepreneurs get their act together in the way that merchants did in days gone by.”

Dr Unsworth foresaw the need for more flexi-time, teleworking and more worker involvement in the running of businesses.

Architect Irena Bauman complained that Leeds “always takes the last seat in the bus”.

She said: “We are not leaders – we are always followers – and we cannot afford to be that any more because of the speed of change and shortage of resources.”

Neil Owen, founder of Test Space, an arts organisation, said the city should provide more arts spaces to nurture and retain its talent.

Several people in the audience supported the theme of DIY – communities taking their future into their own hands.

One man said: “We should ask ourselves: What can we do tomorrow that makes a difference?”

But one woman declared wryly: “Leeds has had more ‘visions’ than Specsavers.”

And another man claimed: “People are not worried about the future of the city but how they can feed their kids today.”

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