The “dream” of improving the First Direct Arena zone of Leeds is getting closer after city planners moved blueprints for a new duo of skyscrapers on to the next decision level.
Unite Group Plc and RR Wing Portfolio Ltd want to create a pair of student accommodation blocks reaching to 27 and 15 storeys – linked by canopied pedestrian walkway at the first floor – in Merrion Way, Tower House Street and Brunswick Terrace.
It would mean the demolition of the two-storey podium buildings, which following the closure of the Grosvenor Casino in 2016 are only occupied only by a JD Wetherspoons pub.
Members of Leeds City Council’s City Plans Panel today deferred the plan and delegated it to the authority’s chief planning officer, Tim Hill, for approval subject to various conditions and legal agreements.
The panel’s chairman, Coun Jim McKenna, said: “It’s an application that is going to lift this area – we always had a dream, a plan to lift this area.”
“Now we’ve got a scheme that will enhance the area and improve it.”
A report which had been drafted for councillors read that the area “remains largely unimproved” following the approval to create the First Direct Arena, apart from the southern side of Merrion Way.
However, Labour’s Coun McKenna added that the arena had been a “catalyst” for the area’s improvement.
Party colleague Coun Asghar Khan said: “This is one of the most important sites that will be beamed across the world.
“At the moment it is a bit bland. If we could open it up and reflect the arena, that would be welcome.”
Glazed sections and aluminium cladding would be included on the blocks, and architect Huw Jones suggested it would benefit from an “origami” style design in some areas. The bottom floor of one tower would be used for commercial purposes. The pub could be replaced but it is not yet known which firm would exist there afterwards.
Several councillors raised concerns about the Merrion Way side of the development being an area which could get over-populated.
And Coun Colin Campbell (Liberal Democrat) also voiced frustration that there was not a break-down in reports about how the development may affect the wind conditions of the surrounding areas.