YOU don’t have to have sipped a £100 bottle of Louis Roederer bubbly at St Pancras’ Champagne Bar, or scoffed Eggs Benedict before the morning train at the GNH bar at Kings Cross Station to know that the facilities at Leeds Railway station could be improved.
The grand spanned roof of the waiting area at Kings Cross station gives it a cathedral-like grandeur whilst most entrances to Leeds station are, perfunctory, at best. Dated, shabby and unwelcoming at worst.
Of course the £20m state-of-the-art South Bank entrance is an exception. But the glass and copper edifice is, though impressive, a very posh porch to stick on the back door.
We have a two-faced station, with the trendy eateries and reclaimed waterfront chic of the southern side completely at odds with the station approach, which looks like it’s been left in lost property since the days of British Rail. A good estate agent, ever the diplomat, would say it would benefit from some modernisation.
And it’s not surprising. The current Leeds City Station was designed in 1938, the same time as the north concourse and Queen’s hotel were built. They have their own style and merit, of course, but do not feel like the gateway to the south and north.
We do not need reminding that Leeds has huge aspirations for its future (HS2, HS3, City of Culture) and the announcement that a long-term masterplan to rebuild Leeds Station is being drawn up - promising us a “world class gateway” for visitors - is to be welcomed.
Putting in escalators, new lifts, barriers and some strategic improvements to the existing concourse and platforms - particularly in terms of the retail and refreshment outlets on offer have certainly done something to improve the commuters’ experience.
But the busiest station outside Kings Cross needs more than that. Soon Leeds Station will be used by more people each day than Gatwick Airport is currently.
The shopping centre with the busiest footfall in Leeds is our station and it is in the heart of a modern, rapidly changing city. A walk around the outside of the station and under the dark arches is enough to tell anyone this is not fit for purpose now and certainly not fit for the future.
It’s fantastic that the design work is being led by Hiro Aso of Gensler, the architect of the Kings Cross station renovation. We have to think big if we want to act big.