LEEDS must get itself better connected to make sure local people benefit from the employment opportunities offered by the city’s South Bank revolution.
That is the no-nonsense message from civic leaders on the second day of the Yorkshire Evening Post’s week-long focus on plans that could effectively double the size of our city centre.
Leeds City Council hopes the regeneration of an area that stretches from Holbeck to Leeds Dock along the southern side of the River Aire will create 35,000 jobs.
But the council also knows work must be done to put the city’s heartland communities in pole position to take advantage of the new jobs, many of which will be in sectors such as digital and creative, manufacturing, construction and leisure.
Proposed measures designed to boost local employment connections in an area that is already home to many flourishing independent firms include:
* Improving public transport links between the South Bank and surrounding neighbourhoods such as Beeston;
* Creating better walking and cycling facilities in areas like the Dark Arches and Neville Street that are currently dominated by roads and fast-moving traffic;
* Challenging perceptions, for example by making more people aware that it takes as long to reach Holbeck’s Marshalls Mill from Leeds City Station and its recently-opened southern entrance as it does to get to the Trinity Leeds shopping centre;
n Developing made-to-measure training programmes for young people and supporting closer working between schools and businesses.
Council leader Coun Judith Blake told the YEP: “We want more new businesses to want to invest but we also recognise the importance of maintaining a mix of businesses operating in the South Bank and to help the award-winning independent firms which are already there to develop further while also encouraging other entrepreneurs who want to set up in the area.
“This will in turn create more job opportunities and drive additional growth. To do all of that we need the right conditions in terms of resources such as attractive buildings and places people want to work, plus easy access through transport links and connections, and finally a skilled workforce ready to help these businesses deliver and develop over time.
“Through learning and training we want people in Leeds and especially the local communities to be able to take advantage of the wealth of opportunities the South Bank will provide.”
More than 300 digital and creative businesses are up-and-running at South Bank sites such as Marshalls Mill.
The occupants of the 18th century building include the Zeal digital and creative agency and its managing director, Jane Rutter, has no doubt that her firm is in at the start of something special.
She said: “We’ve always loved being in Holbeck as it has a very different feel to the city centre and we work with some of the agencies who are our neighbours.
“The opening of the station’s southern entrance has been great for us and means we are about an eight minute walk away from the station which is great for staff who commute and also means we are close to links to our London office. We’ve seen a huge change in the area since we moved here six years ago. When we first started there was really only a couple of cafés but there’s now some great bars and restaurants to take clients to or go to after work and the city centre is a short walk away should we need to.
“We’re really excited to see the ongoing development of the South Bank and be part of it – it’s a great place to work.”
One of the highest profile job creation schemes in the pipeline on the South Bank is a £50m Burberry clothing factory in Holbeck that will employ more than 1,000 people.
The transformation of the area has also been pinpointed as a likely driver of a Leeds city region-wide construction jobs boom that would mean soaring demand for civil engineers, labourers and logistics professionals.
Major building projects proposed for the South Bank include new homes, offices and leisure facilities on the massive 22-acre site in Hunslet formerly occupied by the Tetley Brewery.
The construction sector would also be given a huge boost if plans were approved for the redevelopment of Leeds City Station into a national transport hub capable of handling high-speed HS2 services by 2032.
The contract for the drawing up of a masterplan for the site was last month awarded to a consortium that included the Gensler firm of Hiro Aso – the design guru who oversaw the remodelling of King’s Cross Station in London.