Double boost for Leeds city centre cultural and heritage buildings

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Two major regeneration projects which will transform Leeds’s oldest building and help revitalise important cultural and historic areas of the city centre have received a £1.25m boost.

As previously reported in the Yorkshire Evening Post, plans to save the 300-year-old First White Cloth Hall have been in discussion for a decade.

And at its monthly meeting earlier today (Wenesday), Leeds City Council’s executive board approved a grant of £500,000 from the lottery-funded Lower Kirkgate Townscape Heritage Initiative to help restore and repair the building.

The panel also agreed to explore the possibility of compulsory purchase orders on some of the other buildings in the Lower Kirkgate area as part of wider plans to boost its potential.

Councillor Richard Lewis, the council’s executive board member for regeneration, told the meeting that developer Rushbond “is ready to roll more or less with this scheme”.

“This scheme, when it’s completed, will have a huge impact on that side of the market and I think a knock-on effect on the areas behind,” he said.

He added that while other parts of the city centre could be perceived to have “reached their natural limit”, the area around the White Cloth Hall had real potential for independent businesses and for presenting “a different offer to the rest of the city”.

Meanwhile the meeting at Leeds Civic Hall also saw the release of £750,000 of capital funding to help a regeneration project in the area around Leeds Grand theatre.

Opera North is spearheading plans to spruce up a number of vacant and dilapidated council-owned shop units near the theatre as part of wider expansion plans. The units will then be leased back to Opera North for an initial rent-free period.

The wider plans will include a new Education Centre for arts activities, a dedicated new entrance and box office for the Howard Assembly Rooms, and a new restaurant and bar replacing the row of vacant shop units directly beneath the venue on New Briggate. A new atrium space will also link the restaurant and bar space with stairs and a lift to the Howard Assembly Room.

Stewart Golton, leader of the Lib Dem group, said he “wholeheartedly supports” the plans to regenerate an area of the city which ”has been held back” in the past and “has been in need of a refresh for quite a time”.

However there was some concern from the Conservative opposition, with councillor Barry Anderson questioning when the lease would actually start, the “peculiar” siting of a new access point, and the financial impact on the theatre of any new bar facilities.

Martin Farrington, director of city development, told the panel the scheme would “make significant improvements to the fabric of the cultural facilities in that area” and bring vacant shops back into use.

Richard Mantle, general director of Opera North, said after the meeting: “This is an exciting time for Opera North and the Howard Assembly Room as we seek to create a truly world-class arts hub to meet the needs of our audiences, our artistic company, and our city.

“We have submitted a planning application which is the result of extensive research, planning and consultation, and which we believe will result in a real enhancement to the civic area and facilities of New Briggate and the surrounding Grand Quarter.”

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