Why the Kirkstall Road Viaduct will be soon mark the start of Leeds city centre as rapid expansion plans continue
Leeds city centre may be small compared to other major cities but the scale of its expansion is anything but.
In recent years, the skyline of Leeds has transformed completely as more and more apartment blocks and student flats have shot up.
Just this year alone, build-to-rent apartment blocks completed in Granary Wharf, work was finalised on the 37-storey student accommodation Atlus House in August, making it one of the tallest buildings in Europe, and the former Yorkshire Evening Post site has become home to a new development called The Headline.
The once natural city centre boundaries such as the Leeds Liverpool Canal and River Aire, alongside the busy Inner Ring Road, have shifted to accommodate this rapid growth as the centre pushes outwards into areas like Mabgate and Saxton Gardens.
The Leeds Dock neighbourhood is now considered an extension to the city centre, being just a 10-minute walk along the river, while regeneration works at Tower Works and Round Foundry have led to the area being dubbed ‘Holbeck Urban Village’.
City centre property expert Jonathan Morgan, who was the managing director of Morgans for 22 years before it was acquired by the Linley and Simpson Group, predicts that the Kirkstall Road corridor will be the next area to undergo regeneration, with the road up to the viaduct becoming the new city centre boundary.
Mr Morgan, who is now the city centre specialist for Linley and Simpson, said: “With swathes of undeveloped or under-used land to the west, south and east of the city centre, it is critical that we stop obsessing about prime and core and start thinking in terms of walking distance in particular.
“When John Thorpe, the Civic Architect, was re-imaging the city centre some years ago, he endeavoured to articulate themes for the city and its inner suburbs.
“His vision for Kirkstall Road from the western end of Wellington Street, all the way to the Canal Road viaduct, was for a green corridor, heavily tree-lined and running parallel to the River Aire, all the way into the city.
“Major riverside sites would be opened up and connected, meaning that an entirely new pedestrian experience would be created.“
He added: “It feels like it's now actually starting to happen.
“One of the things which makes this all, to me, much more realistic and why I now think there's a much more tangible timescale, is the nature of the buyers of these schemes.
“For example, the City Reach site has been bought by Latimer, the open-market development arm of Clarion Housing.
“The benefit of that is that they are really well funded and they're all looking for opportunities to deliver off-balance-sheet schemes to reinforce their core activities.
“What it means in real terms is that the likelihood of this [development] happening is that it's far greater than if it was a spec-developer.
“As we walk down the road there's more land that has similarly been purchased by housing associations. That’s a big factor in giving us confidence.”
Latimer has submitted ambitious plans to Leeds City Council to transform the former chemical works site, which backs onto the River Aire, by building 1,437 new homes, 362 student rooms as well as “leisure, cultural and community floorspace”.
The homes will consist of one, two and three-bedroom apartments and some townhouses, while Latimer also says it will create a riverside park.
Other developments along the Kirkstall Road corridor include the construction of new apartments on the former Burley Liberal Club site and The Residence at the very eastern end of Kirkstall Road, where Linley & Simpson have already sold more than two-thirds of the scheme before its autumn completion.
Initial outline consent has also been given to plans to build 631 new homes on the former Arla Foods office site, which has been vacant since 2016.
The brownfield site would become a mix of one, two and three-bedroom build-to-rent apartments of between seven and 16 storeys. It also includes 242 parking spaces, open space and a new riverside walkway.
Further down the road, just by the Grade-II Kirkstall Viaducts, is a 3.7-acre site that was sold to Nu Vu Developments, part of Your Housing Group, one of the UK's largest social housing providers in 2019.
Nuvu Living has secured planning permission for 272 apartments for social and affordable housing.
Mr Morgan: “I think [the Nuvu site] site is the last bit of the jigsaw.
“This site has got planning for a mixture of houses and apartments for affordable homes which is really positive because it means it is the link between slightly cheaper council stock and slightly more expensive mixed tenure and private housing.
“It’s not an unpleasant environment. I know you have a busy road but this scheme will be designed to slightly turn its back on the road. You’ll have a green riverbank, green space behind you, a view of the Viaduct and town on a bus in five minutes.”
He added: “This is a really important scheme as, looking forward a few years, in my mind this will mark the start of the city centre.
“The big challenge in Leeds is because the city’s so small, the minute you step out the city core everyone worries about how far it is from town but you can physically see the city centre and see how close it is from Kirkstall Road.
“It’s simply a matter of time before the Kirkstall Road corridor generates sufficient momentum so as to become known as a neighbourhood in itself rather than just a place to pass through.
“With more activity than ever before across the key sites along Kirkstall Road and, most significantly, robust and well-funded developers in place, this well-known and highly prominent corner of Leeds city centre is likely to see dramatic change in the next five to seven years.”