Trinity Leeds: A new city vista

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With just 20 months to go before Trinity opens, developers of the city shopping and leisure development have unveiled the latest stage. Rod McPhee took a look around.

THE world of business, retail and construction is terribly excited about Trinity. It represents a £650m investment in Leeds, creating an extra 120 shops and revitalising a seriously run-down quarter of the heart of Leeds.

But the wider population have still to fully absorb the impact of the development. This is partly because, although the scheme covers a massive block of the city centre, there are currently only small glimpses of the site emerging on the main entrance points on Boar Lane, Briggate and Albion Street.

However, inside the site work is continuing at an astounding pace. The metal skeleton of the boutique Everyman cinema is already having glass cladding attached and the Conran-backed restaurant – which will create the highest dedicated restaurant in the city – is also taking shape.

So too is the terracing which will provide the first unrivalled place to eat and drink overlooking the key thoroughfare of Briggate.

Meanwhile, Albion Street is already being cleared off much of the remnants of the 1960s arcades which saw bridges and escalators clutter up the bottom of this important road in Leeds.

Gerald Jennings, portfolio director for the North and Scotland at Land Securities who are developing the site, said: “It’s a huge site, but people walking around Leeds don’t yet quite understand the sheer scale of what we’re doing in the city.

“It’s only when you get a real vantage point that you can actually understand what we’re building.”

Standing in the offices of Land Securites on Albion Street offers a breathtaking view into the scheme. It offers an open vista of the space cleared away by demolishing the mish-mash of construction on the opposite side of the road, but, more importantly, it shows the vast framework that’s risen since workmen went back on site last summer.

But it still only gives a hint of the epic nature of the finished product.

Newly released images of the construction, as it will be, show a huge curved glass roof covering, though not enclosing, the malls inside.

And unlike the previous Burton and Trinity arcades that were demolished to make way for Trinity, they will actually reopen thoroughfares that were blocked off and disjointed by the post-war development.

Gerald said: “With the old arcades, there was no sense of place, no identity and really poor connectivity with the city – we are addressing all of those with the new development.

“We actually took time to go back and look at how a city centre has been and we had to add to that, we look at the old streetscapes and we’re connected streets in Leeds that were closed off.”

The most obvious example is Trinity Street which was closed off by the back end of Marks & Spencer, forcing visitors to take a dog-leg round into the dark arcades.

the new development fully reopens the street allowing pedestrians to walk all the way from The Headrow down to Boar Lane. The plans also reopen part of Bank Street, not to mention the opening up of the bottom half of Albion Street.

But most importantly it will help the city to rediscover Trinty Church on Boar Lane, from which the development takes its name.

“The new roof will become part of the skyline of Leeds,” says Gerald. “But it’s interesting how it plays with Trinity Church.

“As people navigate around Leeds they currently don’t really look up that much and they don’t really see the spire, but the scheme will open up the church and visibility of that tower. For the first time in maybe hundreds of years people will actually notice the church.

“And that’s been incredibly important to us, it’s almost an anchor for the whole development, which is why it’s fundamental and fully integrated with the project.”

One of the largest entrances and most protruding buildings on Boar Lane stand in contrast to the brutal building (housing C&A) which stood next to it for decades. The new construction is not only curved but clad in stone similar to that of the church.

But as well as being complementary to the surroundings Trinity is a statement project and a serious business proposition intended to solve a problem which has been evident in Leeds for some time.

Gerald said: “We know that retailers want to come to Leeds, not just new but existing retailers who occupy poorly configured spaces at the moment – they want better space.

“A recent survey showed that Leeds had the fourth largest demand from retailers in the UK. So we know there’s demand there.

“Because some of the existing units are poorly configured certain big retailers cant get the full range in, so in situations like that consumers might go to bigger stores like Meadhowhall or the Trafford centre because they have the space – the depth and width.

“But Trinity will stop a lot of that leakage and instead of people jumping in their cars and going to Manchester or Sheffield, they’ll stay in Leeds – and that’s hugely important.”

As well as existing big names like Boots, H&M and Marks & Spencer, Next have also signed up to open a far larger store inside Trinity. Then there are smaller but no less significant retailers like River Island, Cult and Hollister.

So far bosses of the scheme are sticking with the figure that they are 60 per cent let, though the amount of space that’s been taken up is likely to be far higher.

Confidence in them hitting the 100 per cent target stems from the fact that Trinity have had their hand in various schemes across the country with projects like the Bull Ring in Birmingham and Cabot Circus in Bristol.

But they want to build on that with a crucial point of difference.

“Leeds will take those developments one stage further,” said Gerald Jennings. “It will be a best in class which has taken lessons from what we’ve done elsewhere up and down the country.

“Some 300m people walk through our shopping centres. But they only keep coming out shopping if we provide the right experience.

“So rather than shops closing at 5.30pm then having people come back in later, they’ll stay in Leeds.

“To achieve this we’ll be making clear to retailers that we expect the trading hours to go to 8pm, so the leases will dictate the retailing the evening economy will change substantially as a result.

“And this, combined with the Everyman cinema and the restaurants, will create a great synergy which we want to take the life and activity beyond in Leeds. We think this is something very exciting for the city – and we’re convinced that it will offer something very different.”

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