It placed 26th out of 100 cities around the world – and the highest in the country – in the Sustainable Cities report published by leading infrastructure consultancy Arcadis today.
Its social sustainability index measured factors including health, education, income inequality, work-life balance, crime and living costs.
City council leader Judith Blake said: “We’re absolutely delighted that we’ve been recognised as the best city in the UK for quality of life and people.
“It sits with everything I’ve been saying about creating a strong economy within a compassionate city. Everything we do must fit into achieving that. We want to bring that benefit to the people who live and work here.”
Leeds was the only city in Yorkshire to be featured in the report, which highlighted its role as the largest legal centre in UK outside of the capital and a leading retail destination.
Its proximity to the Yorkshire Dales and being home to one of the largest urban parks in Europe helped it score highly too.
The city was ranked in the top quarter in the world for economic sustainability, but struggled to compete in the economic rankings where it came in at 69th.
The report drew attention to poor transport, high unemployment and skills gaps as factors holding the city back.
Nick Kealey, cities director for Leeds at Arcadis, said: “In an era of devolution of powers, the city needs to do more to push its own regional agenda, to avoid getting left behind.”
The authors of the report felt the city was at risk of failing to capitalise on its full potential – something Coun Blake was quick to challenge.
She highlighted investment in the city from China and Malaysia, its high rates for private start-ups, and the benefits yet to come from the £1bn West Yorkshire ‘Plus’ Transport Fund.
“They talk about devolution, but Leeds City Region has already got the largest growth deal in the country without going down the next stage of devolution,” she said. “We’re working toward that at the moment.”
She also pointed towards ambitious goals, such as the aim to be carbon neutral by 2050, which tie in with its future development and sustainability.
Mr Kealey said more was needed for the city to reach its true potential.
“Leeds is at a crossroads; if it can attract and retain the right people, bring in external investment and develop a stronger identity as a city, there is no reason why it cannot improve its long-term prospects,” he said.
Coun Blake said she would be inviting Arcadis to talk about the progress being made in the city and how to better promote its strengths.