Crisis meeting over Corn Exchange plans

COUNCIL leader Andrew Carter has called an urgent meeting to discuss concerns over controversial plans for the historic Leeds Corn Exchange.

And he has vowed to do all he can to help devastated traders being ousted by landlord Zurich Assurance. The firm want to turn the quirky independent shopping centre into an upmarket food emporium.

Another protest against these plans took place outside the centre on Saturday and opponents have vowed to make it a regular event.

Coun Carter was holding a meeting today with the authority's chief officer for asset management, Paul Brook, to find out exactly what was planned and how the proposals affected tenants, some of whom have been trading in the Corn Exchange for up to 17 years.

The Leeds City Council leader said: "I'm very concerned by what appears to be happening and I've asked for a full briefing from very senior officers, particularly to see if we can do anything to help the current traders."

He said: "I am concerned that clearly some of the traders are very put out about what seems to be going on. I want to get to the bottom of it if I can."

A shopholder based in the Grade I listed building called on Coun Carter (Conservative, Calverley and Farsley) to back the traders, saying: "I am one of the tenants currently in the Corn Exchange who are being kicked out by the landlords Zurich Assurance to make way for branded restaurants.

"The people of Leeds are very angry. The council has signed over one of their public buildings to a company which has no interest in the wishes of local people when it comes to what the building is used for.

"Not only that, they are destroying established successful Leeds businesses with no consideration whatsoever and have no regard for the people whose livelihoods are being destroyed and who are feeding money back into the economy."

Although the council owns the Corn Exchange it is rented to Zurich on a lease lasting around a century.

The latest protest followed an initial demonstration the previous week. Then, 300 people turned up to show their frustration and hundreds signed petitions against the moves, including nearly 700 online.

The protests have been organised on social networking website Facebook, where groups opposed to the changes at the Corn Exchange have attracted up to 10,000 members.

Protestors have vowed to hold the Saturday protests every week until their views are taken on board.

Zurich Assurance have previously said that they would talk to tenants to see how they could fit into the new plans.

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