How times change. Forty years ago, Leeds was busy selling itself as the UK’s motorway city.
It was a tag that, in some ways, made perfect sense. Stage three of the inner ring road had been completed in 1974 and Yorkshire’s unofficial capital also lies in close proximity to the M1, M62 and M621.
Sadly, there proved to be little mileage in the new slogan, as traffic-choked streets soon became synonymous with air pollution and an outdated way of doing things.
And today civic chiefs are working on a masterplan that aims to turn our road-heavy city centre into a mix of quality urban spaces and boulevards as Leeds bids to be named European Capital of Culture 2023.
Coun Richard Lewis, Leeds City Council’s executive member for regeneration, transport and planning, has confirmed to the Yorkshire Evening Post that ideas currently under consideration include:
* The closure of City Square to general traffic to create a “world-class” gateway to the middle of Leeds;
* Infrastructure improvements to the Armley Gyratory, Ingram Distributor and M621 to re-route traffic away from the city centre;
* The possible closure to general traffic of Neville Street, near Bridgewater Place and the Dark Arches;* Making improvements to the so-called “public realm” by cutting vehicle use on the city’s South Bank, which stretches from Holbeck urban village to Leeds Dock.
A report produced by the council late last year says: “Reducing the impact of traffic on our urban core will support our long-term public realm ambitions for the city.
“[There is] a clear vision of what Leeds will look and feel like in 2023 and beyond – a central area with a civic arrival space, welcoming and easy to walk and cycle around.
“An accessible city centre park, with quality urban spaces, European style greened boulevards and well-connected cultural assets.”
It adds: “As the first point of arrival for many to our city, our railway station and City Square should reflect its landmark civic status, and both our identity and values as a city.
“Across the city, people have told us they want City Square to be more welcoming, animated by active uses that draw visitors into a vibrant city centre.
“As a key part of our cultural heritage and space of civic pride, above all the square should be a gateway which provides easy access to the economic, social and cultural opportunities of a knowledge rich city centre.”
Coun Lewis is stressing, however, that the transport plans for the heart of the city are far from cut and dried. Much will depend, he told the YEP, on the fine detail of the Government’s recently-announced proposals for a new Leeds Clean Air Zone that could see some larger vehicles paying to enter the city centre from 2020.
He is also adamant that Leeds is not anti-car, saying that whenever steps are taken to reduce vehicle use then alternative measures are put in place.
A prime example of that approach, he said, had been the successful park-and-ride site next to Leeds United’s Elland Road ground.
* Tomorrow in the YEP’s week-long focus on transport in Leeds: where do buses fit into the city’s future plans?