£12m Leeds theatre district regeneration plan includes a little extra help from the taxpayer

Date: 11th November 2017. 'Picture James Hardisty. The 'Leeds Grand Quarte in New briggate. Pictured The Howard Assembly Room at Opera North.
Date: 11th November 2017. 'Picture James Hardisty. The 'Leeds Grand Quarte in New briggate. Pictured The Howard Assembly Room at Opera North.
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A major £12m regeneration project in the area around a flagship Leeds theatre is to get a boost from the taxpayer.

Leeds City Council’s cabinet is this week expected to rubberstamp the release of £750,000 of funding to spruce up a number of vacant and dilapidated shop units near Leeds Grand.

PIC: Simon Hulme

PIC: Simon Hulme

The units will then be leased back to Opera North - which is spearheading the project - for an initial rent-free period and will form part of a wider expansion, which includes a new bar and restaurant.

A dedicated new entrance will also be created to the Howard Assembly Room, which is run by Opera North but can currently only be accessed via the theatre.

The plans also include a new three storey atrium space in the alleyway between the vacant shops and the Grand Theatre building, and a new Education Centre to house Opera North’s arts activities for children, young people and families.

Last summer, Opera North was told that its application for funding from the Arts Council had been unsuccessful.

However the company continued to develop its proposals for the refurbishment of the vacant shops, the Howard Assembly Room and nearby Premier House where it is based.

A report being presented to Leeds City Council’s cabinet on Wednesday says the wider project “will not only enhance the resilience of the company by extending and improving the existing buildings to deliver new facilities” but it will also “act as the catalyst” to the wider “regeneration aspirations for New Briggate and the surrounding area”.

It adds: “The council needs to ensure that the cultural infrastructure across the city is fit for purpose and that its cultural organisations are both resilient and sustainable”.

The money is to be paid in the form of a “reverse premium” - cash paid by a landlord to a tenant to take a difficult property off their hands.

Proposals for the area around Leeds Grand have been in discussions for several years.

In 2015, the council’s Executive Board was asked to approve detailed regeneration proposals, which could “re-energise” the area and “support the competitiveness of the Grand Theatre, Opera North and other local businesses”.

It said a reverse premium of £750,000 “was likely to be required to contribute to the cost of the refurbishment, funding structural works that would normally fall to the landlord to bring the units to a condition suitable for letting for restaurant/bar use”.