Leeds’s past set for starring role in 2015

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A new year brings new resolutions and new hopes. Neil Hudson speaks to a former MP, a heritage campaigner, a folk-lore expert, a fitness guru and a property professional.

Dr Kevin Grady, director of Leeds Civic Trust, said: “I am looking forward to 2015 with great enthusiasm because it is likely to be a crucial year for shaping Leeds over the next 20 years. Many important decisions will be taken about medium and long term projects affecting the prosperity of the city, the quality of its amenities and the quality of its urban environment.

“It will see the creation of a masterplan for Leeds South Bank, the area extending from the city centre waterfront out to the M621. There is a huge opportunity to sustainably regenerate this area as a high quality, pedestrian-friendly environment in which families can live and work with the benefits of the city centre on their doorstep and great new city amenities in their midst. If done well, it will repair the landscape scarred by ‘the Motorway City of the Seventies’ and end the severance of Beeston, Hunslet and Holbeck from the city centre.

“Another exciting prospect will be the creation of a masterplan for the remodelling of Leeds Station in a highly imaginative way to enable it meet the needs of HS2, HS3 and future users of the present rail network. This is a vital project upon which the wisdom of the present generation will be judged by the residents of Leeds in a hundred years’ time. As well during the year, I hope the West Yorkshire’s Combined Transport Authority will be able to take firm control over our local bus and train services, so that their efficiency and convenience is greatly improved to provide a properly integrated public transport system.

“I hope that 2015 will produce major progress towards guaranteeing the future of two of Leeds City Centre’s most important historic buildings: the First White Cloth Hall in Kirkgate and the Egyptian Temple Mill in Holbeck.

“Both buildings enter the new year with potential new owners with options to acquire them provided they can develop imaginative and commercially viable schemes for their renovation and reuse. The First White Cloth Hall has the potential to be a heritage gem within the currently rundown Kirkgate; while Temple Mill, which with its iconic exterior and single room the size of two football pitches, could become the city’s greatest cultural attraction.

“Finally, during the year I hope the city will decide to bid to be European Capital of Culture in 2023. Leeds has very strong cultural institutions and activities but the whole often seems to be smaller than the sum of its parts.

“I believe that the process of making a Capital of Culture bid would create a much needed strong working relationship between all those involved in cultural activities in Leeds which will boost their profile and greatly enhance the city’s reputation.

John Billingsley was one of the founder member of Northern Earth Mysteries group, which examines and publishes articles about folk history. The group was formed in The Griffin Hotel in Leeds in 1979, making it one of the world’s longest running folk history organisations.

John, 62, who has recently relinquished the editorship of the Northern Earth Mysteries magazine after 23 years, said: “I gave up making new year resolutions some time ago, because I always tended to make mega resolutions, by which I mean things like world peace and so on; and of course you cannot do that - resolutions have to be personal and backed up with a great deal of determination.

“I would like to see more people passing on traditions through story telling. Whatever their background - and we have such a diverse population in Yorkshire - I think it would help in terms of showing people that we all have similar ideas about life and similar customs.”

Rebecca Roach runs Morley Boost Camp - everybod.com - an early morning fitness course, and is also a coach for Run England, the national body which aims to encourage more people to take up the activity. The mother-of-two said: “I would like to see more people taking part in workplace fitness schemes. There’s a growing realisation from employers that a healthy workforce means fewer days off ill. I have carried out workplace pilates classes for employees. They help with fitness and stress relief.

“It’s an area which is growing and with the economy hopefully picking up, people and employers are hopefully looking to the long term and not just the short.”

Former MP Battle has big ‘little’ plans

Former Labour MP John Battle has a long list of things he wants to get done in 2015.

He said: “There are big things and small things. One of the big changes I’d like to see happen is politicians pressing the ‘fear button’ a little less often and perhaps giving people a bit more hope.

“It’s an election year and I think the public have had their fill of panic and things to worry about. Basically, people know how to cut their cloth, they don’t need politicians to tell them and constantly instil fear.

“I would hope in 2015 they would have more faith in people. I recently spent two days with a collection bucket up at the St Vincent Centre, off York Road, near Great Clothes, and we had 20 choirs turn up on the hour and they were all on time and I was bowled over by the level of generosity people showed - that’s an example of what happens when you have faith in people. It can happen on a local level but politicians need to realise it can also happen on a bigger scale.

“Speaking of being on a more local level, I am also doing a lot of work in Bramley on the credit union we have. The rules have just recently been changed, allowing us to advertise our lending rates and comparing them with other lenders and in 2015 you will be seeing much more publicity about this and other credit unions.

“Basically, we want to muscle out the high street lenders offering extortionate rates and the doorstep lenders who have unscrupulous practises, such as lending you £100 and then turning up on your doorstep with a pitbull and demanding £150.

“We have a counter already in Bramley Shopping Centre, inside the Bramley Elderly Action shop but ideally I think we want to make it more visible and to show people that while some lenders might charge 3,000 per cent, the most we can charge for a loan is 12 per cent.

“At the moment, credit unions make up about three per cent of the market place. By the end of next year, I want that to be up at 20 per cent, so that we don’t have a situation where people who need to borrow money are forced to go down the other route.

“I am also looking at new ways of working with the council and forming new partnerships to run things like libraries and other services. We have shown this can be done already with Bramley Baths but certain people need to be paid - you have to keep the professionalism and the expertise in the business, so for example at Bramley Baths we pay lifeguards and the pool manager and so on. The same model could be extended to other services and Leeds City Council are now open to this idea.

“With the baths it was a case of use it or lose it - it’s the same with the library. I’d like to see it being used for more by more.”

‘Bricks n’ mortar set for year of stability’

Luke Gidney is managing director at Let-Leeds and a regular contributor to the YEP’s Homes supplement. He predicts 2015 will see stability in the property market.

“A number of factors could prove favourable over the next year - we hope they will benefit to the rental sector.

“The first is continued stability in rentals and sales. Research has shown Leeds is affordable compared with other cities - a situation that suits tenants and landlords.

“Property prices have been consistent for many years, it would be a huge shame if this was to change because the market overheated or slumped. Indications are the market should remain consistent for 2015. One inevitability is the beginning of a gradual rise in interest rates. The important question is what effect will this have on the market?

“This is something we have been examining for a while. We expect landlords will pass the resulting increase in mortgage costs on via a gradual rise in rents. The flip-side is higher rates may prevent house prices increasing, which could keep rents down.

“There are other changes due in the property market. National online agencies have enticed buyers, sellers and renters with cheaper fees. It will be interesting to see whether consumers respond. It’s a battle of local knowledge and service versus price.

“A new property portal, OnTheMarket, will look to shake things up and has been backed by over 4,000 agencies. Will it have the capability to compete with the Rightmove-Zoopla monopoly? Some say Rightmove and Zoopla may start offering services directly to consumers.

“More details on the proposed Leeds-Manchester fast rail link would be the perfect boost to the start of a new year for our city.”