College masterplan for flagship Leeds city centre site scaled down and delayed after going over budget

Ambitious plans for a brand new college campus on a flagship city centre regeneration site in Leeds have been forced back to the drawing board after the construction costs went over budget.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 22nd May 2017, 1:00 am
Updated Sunday, 4th June 2017, 10:03 pm

Leeds City College has already won approval for an ambitious project at Quarry Hill.

The new further education hub will sit opposite the city’s Victoria Gate retail development, and next to West Yorkshire Playhouse, which is itself due to be revamped.

The campus will also sit alongside a wider £150m homes, offices and leisure masterplan for the Quarry Hill site, which is being billed as a growing cultural and educational quarter for the city.

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However plans chiefs have now been told that a tender for the approved campus project - part-funded by the Leeds City Region LEP (local enterprise partnership) - has come in over the maximum budget, forcing a scaling down of the scheme.

It also means the campus will open a year later than scheduled, in September 2019 rather than next year.

Phil Brock, from planning consultants WYG, told Leeds council’s City Plans Panel: “The full construction package has been out to tender. Unfortunately those tender prices were over budget. It’s a fixed budget that’s largely being funded by the Local Enterprise Partnership.

“But the college remains committed to delivering a landmark building and maintaining the high quality design principles that have already been established.

“So there has been a lot of work over the last few months which has delayed the construction start.”

“We are now in a position that we can maintain the integrity of the scheme - but within the budget [and] there will be the need for some changes,” he added.

Mr Brock explained the Quarry Hill campus - a “long term aspiration” of the college - will be the college’s second new campus in Leeds city centre after the Printworks site on Hunslet Road.

He admitted there had been additional “pressure” due to the “tight” timings the team had been working to.

A Leeds Civic Hall meeting was told that the scheme will be built in two phases.

Questions were raised by the panel about funding for the second phase, with one councillor asking: “If you haven’t got the funding for Phase 1, what guarantees do you have for Phase 2?“

Louise Child, spokeswoman for the college, responded: “Phase 2 is an aspiration, and we have already started the process of seeking funding for that phase. But we are also very mindful that we have developed the scheme at phase 1 to work a as a standalone should the funding be delayed in being secured.”

The meeting was told that the “most significant change in terms of bringing the cost in line with the budget” is a reduction in the “sheer volume”, as well as the tallest building being brought down two floors from 11 storeys.

The curved design and “stepped up” heights of the three main buildings will stay.

There was a mixed response from the panel to the amended design of the scheme.

However councillor Neil Walshaw pointed out that the key thing for the panel to consider was “What is this building? Why has it to come back to us? And does it still pass muster in terms of our remit for the city centre?”

He said: “What is this building’s purpose? It is to provide an excellent new campus for Leeds City College and to provide great opportunities for kids aged 16 to 19.

“It’s clear that it passes that test.

“Why are we here? Because the Further Education sector, just like lots of the public sector, is being punished through austerity.

“The LEP has other issues with its budget, so they [the college] are having to come back and cut their cloth accordingly. I don’t think we can criticise them for that.

“They have come up with something that passes those two important tests. So I am supportive of this.”

After the meeting, Jane Pither, Deputy Principal at Leeds City College, said: “Our students are our number one priority and we aim to fulfil our commitment to offering a dynamic and contemporary learning environment that meets the needs of the local economy.

“The revised plans for the Quarry Hill Campus will have minimal impact on the provision and space dedicated for teaching and state-of-the-art facilities.”

A full revised planning application will be submitted later in the year.

The one-and-a-half acre site earmarked for the college campus sits in a prime location in Leeds city centre, bound by Eastgate and the Playhouse Square access road.

The site is currently cleared and hoarded up.