Leeds could enter a new era of unprecedented economic prosperity if it succeeds in attracting increased levels of investment in transport, education and skills, housing and office space, a major new report looking at the city’s long-term future has forecast.
A joint study by the respected consultancies Cambridge Economic Associates and Cambridge Econometrics predicts that the Leeds economy could create nearly 50,000 new knowledge intensive and service-based jobs in the city centre between 2015 and 2030, far outstripping the pace of progress seen between 2000 and 2015.
The estimated growth would require 7.5 million sq ft of quality new floor space in the city centre, according to the joint study.
Property developer CEG commissioned the independent research to understand the drivers of the Leeds economy, its past performance and its future economic prospects.
Jon Kenny,development director at CEG, said: “Leeds is exceptionally well placed to withstand any upheaval caused by Britain’s exit from the European Union. However, the uncertainty created by Brexit underlines the need for investment in the city’s infrastructure to realise the strong growth potential we have identified.”
CEG is committed to the future fortunes of Leeds by bringing forward a series of transformative projects including Kirkstall Forge and South Bank regeneration sites and has interests in Thorpe Park Leeds and city centre assets.
The CEG Cambridge Report highlights the very strong performance of Leeds since 1990, outperforming Manchester, Birmingham and other regional peers, and the highly successful restructuring of its post-industrial economy.
It identifies the strong representation of the knowledge-intensive business services (KIBS) sector as a competitive advantage for the city, providing rock-solid foundations for future economic growth and offsetting the decline of traditional manufacturing industries.
The report says KIBS jobs in fields such as health, education, finance, management consultancy, legal, accounting, architecture and technology, which are heavily represented in Leeds, are among those less likely to be negatively affected by automation over the next two or three decades.
It adds that Leeds benefits from powerful, world-leading and collaborative academic institutions and substantial spending on innovation in the region.
But the report also sets out a series of clear challenges for civic and business leaders in Leeds which must be addressed if the city is to be resilient in the face of uncertainty and make the most of the potential opportunities associated with leaving the European Union.
The authors warn that the ability of Leeds to attract new investment in high-growth knowledge-intensive sectors depends increasingly on the strength of its offer compared to competing city economies, which are catching up on their restructuring.
They add: “It is essential that Leeds does all it can to enable its core businesses to access the skilled labour, premises and finance they require to grow.”
The report calls for substantial investment in new rail and road infrastructure to allow more commuting into the city centre from the surrounding region and other cities in the North.
Mr Kenny added: “The success of Leeds as set out in this report is to be celebrated, but the analysis also makes clear that the competition is not standing still and we cannot be complacent. Leeds needs to continue its bold and ambitious approach to growth if it is to retain its position as one of the UK’s fastest-growing cities.
“Both Birmingham and Manchester are starting to perform strongly by restructuring their own economies and challenging Leeds’s regional dominance among the major former industrial cities.
“Leeds has the necessary sectoral strengths to provide a firm footing for future economic growth and prosperity.
“And in the South Bank area, it has the space to accommodate significant growth of the city centre.
“This opportunity is unparalleled in Europe. However, we must continue to work together as a partnership between the public and private sector to prioritise the initiatives and investment in transport, schools and training, homes and office space to help realise the potential.
“It is essential that Leeds continues to deliver much-needed new housing, particularly within easy reach of the growing city centre so it is more sustainable, and invests in the workforce to build these new homes.
“Leeds is the region’s economic driver and the future role and success of many places beyond the city centre are inherently linked to the future success of the city.”
Mr Kenny added that the success must be felt across all of Leeds’s communities.
He said: “We will continue to support the inclusive growth agenda, not only because it is the right thing to do but also because the level of anticipated growth means we need to make sure we have the labour market to realise the growth potential.”
Leeds may wish to consider a mass transit system which relied on digital technology rather than fixed tracks, it has been claimed.
Jon Kenny, development director at CEG, said that to realise its ambition, Leeds may wish to consider being the first city in the world to invest in a digitally-based transport infrastructure based around driverless technology.
He said: “Do we want to be the last city in Europe to adopt fixed infrastructure for transit schemes or do we want to be the first city in Europe to start looking at and implementing digitally-based schemes?
“It would be the first in the world to achieve it.
“That has to be about looking at research about where we are going to be in the future and by the time we execute an infrastructure scheme could find it is already out of date. We need to be thinking about what is globally leading instead of mechanics that are 100 years old. You just need to look at what is happening with driverless technology and the way that digital technology is going. You look at what is happening with driverless cars and you can start seeing that moving into driverless passenger transit.
“There is an opportunity in investing in and researching about how do you would do that on mass scale in a metropolitan city.”
The Leader of Leeds City Council, Coun Judith Blake, welcomed the findings of the CEG Cambridge Report.
She said the research illustrates the economic progress that has been made while also setting out the challenges and opportunities the city needs to address to sustain its success.
Coun Blake added: “We recognise the areas identified as risks and we are continuing to work hard to mitigate any future barriers to growth and promote the city far and wide. The report underlines the importance of the current debate about improving rail links across the North.
“The council’s values centre on building a strong economy within a compassionate city. Growth must be inclusive so everyone has the opportunity to benefit and this needs to be embraced by the private sector.
“We applaud the efforts by CEG to support the city.”