AN imposing collection of Leeds academics researching cities have joined the clamour objecting to the "gentrification" of Leeds.
The group of professors from Leeds University and Leeds Met have written an open letter to Leeds City Council posing the question: "Is Leeds going in the right direction?"
They were inspired by the Yorkshire Evening Post's City at the Crossroads series over the past two weeks, which has been looking at this very issue, along with the challenges facing the city in the future.
Rachael Unsworth, author of the City Living in Leeds reports in 2003, 2005 and 2007 and geography lecturer at Leeds University, said the decision to pen the letter and voice their opinions was also prompted by the proposed changes recently revealed for the Corn Exchange and Kirkgate Market.
She said: "That was the straw that broke the camel's back.
"But the wider issues raised in the letter are the long-term views of many of my colleagues."
She added: "We are used to thinking critically about the way cities change over time and we don't expect our voice alone to be the ultimate deciding factor but it's adding considered opinion to the debate."
The letter, signed by 14 city specialists, begins: "As academics researching and teaching on urban regeneration issues locally and internationally, we are concerned to learn that most traders from the Corn Exchange will be evicted after Christmas to make way for an 'International Food Emporium'.
"We also share the fears of stallholders from Kirkgate Market that the planned refurbishment will price many out of existence. Despite the obvious success story that Leeds has become in certain respects, these recent proposals confirm our fears that the overarching regeneration vision for the city centre is now taking Leeds in the wrong direction.
"The Kirkgate Market and the Corn Exchange are both icons of the Leeds landscape, truly unique results of the city's history. The plans currently tabled for their regeneration could strip away their character and turn them into yet more corporatised and exclusive shopping centres."
It continues: "Gentrification by its very nature actively works against efforts to narrow the gap. In the obsession to compete with other cities, to go up a league and be the Barcelona of the North, Leeds is in danger of simply becoming a ‘clone city’, a place like anywhere else.”
Thousands of people have signed petitions in shops and online to “Save the Corn Exchange” since Zurich Assurance announced plans to kick out its tenants to make way for an upmarket food hall in the Grade I listed building and two protest demonstrations have been held.
The group of campaigning academics is following up its letter by holding a series of public debates.
They will complement a conference planned by the council for January – Developing a Vision for the City Centre – which will see key national and international speakers share their views.
The group has said it would welcome the council as as partner and is open to suggestions on themes for debate and how to put people’s suggestions into practice.
The first event will take place on February 28 at 6pm in the Rupert Beckett Lecture Theatre, University of Leeds.