Mabgate says no to gentrification as it puts community at heart of future regeneration plans
Recently voted one of the coolest neighbourhoods in the UK, Mabgate is undergoing rapid regeneration.
However, amid concerns this development could lead to gentrification, and force people out of their community, a new project has been launched to ensure that their voices are heard.
Mabgate is a small and diverse neighbourhood, bridging the gap between Burmantfots, Lincoln Green and the city centre.
Historically an industrial powerhouse, the area was once filled with factories, industrial sites and worker’s houses, the remainders of which can be seen today in historic buildings such as Smithfield House and Hope Foundry.
In more recent years, as Leeds city centre has expanded outwards, thanks to regeneration projects such as Leeds South Bank and Quarry Hill, there has been a gradual pull northwards toward Mabgate.
Modern apartment blocks have been built alongside the already existing businesses, and the area’s brownfield sites mean Mabgate has become a prime location in the eye of developers, with proposed plans including a new Leeds City College campus.
Journalist Robyn Vinter wrote a 2020 Condé Nast Traveller article naming Mabgate as one of the coolest neighbourhoods in the UK, highlighting it as an "under-the-radar zone with art at its core".
Part of Mabgate’s success as a creative hotspot, she said, was that it remained affordable enough to support a strong arts scene - something she hopes will remain a consideration in any regeneration plans.
Robyn said: “It's one of the oldest streets in Leeds, the actual street itself of Mabgate, and it is one of those places that's been neglected for quite a while.
“When an area gets a bit overlooked for quite a while, you get really kind of artsy people moving into there because it's cheap.
"The last few years it's been a real hub of arts and music so there's East Streets Arts based there, there are a couple of recording studios, there's Mabgate Mills which has got loads artsy stuff and creative businesses.
“Anytime there's a place that has been overlooked you get loads of creative types moving in and then they do quite a lot of work on the area in little ways so it might just be like taking over a building and redoing it or putting some work into it.
“It revitalises the area a little bit and gets it on people's radar.
“It sounds like it's now getting on the council's radar, and then the council will be able to put a little bit of money in sometimes or even just put a plan behind doing stuff in the area.
“The only danger I would say is that sometimes when that happens, it gets gentrified and then businesses that are there already, or cultural organisations or arts organisations that are really relying on being able to use cheap space, end up having to move out because the rents go up, and they can't afford it, which I think is something that Mabgate really in danger of and I think it might even be happening already.”
In a bid to avoid gentrification as part of Mabgate’s regeneration, a new neighbourhood planning model has been created by East Street Arts.
The Neighbourhood Plan is all part of a project in Burmantofts, Lincoln Green and Mabgate to give communities a bigger say in the future of the places they live and work.
Its aim is to ensure that the wants and needs of the people who live and work in the area are centred when it comes to issues such as planning permissions.
The project will directly inform the action plan for the future of Mabgate, which will be co-produced by Leeds City Council.
Helen Moore, Engagement Lead at East Street Arts, said: “There’s a special alchemy in this project - our Neighbourhood Plan activity has truly brought people together from all backgrounds.
“This work is so exciting and important because it is putting local people first.
“It’s rare that people and communities feel truly listened to, particularly if they’ve recently arrived in Leeds or are even new to life in the UK.
“That’s why our Neighbourhood Plan work has such huge potential, because if people can feel they are able to influence decisions in their local area - they feel more engaged with places, political decision-making and contribute to being part of a real community here.”
Karen Watson, Artistic Director at East Street Arts, added: “This is new work for us, but we can already see the potential for delivering change and leaving a legacy of people caring for the future of their community.
“The Neighbourhood Plan is helping us to build closer connections to communities here, a lot of the people connecting with this work wouldn’t ordinarily come to arts events.
“So, by delivering people-focused grassroots creative ideas, we are delivering a deeper engagement with the Neighbourhood Plan - really listening to the voices of the public in new ways.”
The ambition is for the Neighbourhood Forum to be handed over to the people of Burmantofts, Mabgate and Lincoln Green with a local chair and diverse community members ensuring true representation; ensuring they have a real say in what happens next.
Abbie Miladinovic, Senior Planner at Leeds City Council, said: “Neighbourhood planning allows all communities to prepare a neighbourhood plan for their area and to help shape
what new development should look like and where it should be located.
“As important as this is, areas like Mabgate, Burmantofts and Lincoln Green need much more than that in order to thrive and be successful.
“That’s why the Council has been working closely with East Street Arts, local residents and businesses to explore how the neighbourhood planning process can be used to connect in a different way, where a ‘sense of community’, personal wellbeing and local distinctiveness are just as important as bricks and mortar.”
She added: “East Street Arts have been incredible in finding exciting and fresh ways to engage and inspire local people to become more connected to where they live, to care
more and to ultimately help make changes.
“We will be helping local people to create an exciting vision for their area and we will be working with them to deliver it.”