The former industrial heart of Leeds is facing one of the biggest transformations in the city’s history. Jonathan Brown reports on council ambitions for an exciting future for the South Bank.
The engine room of Leeds’ growth during the Industrial Revolution could be the site of the biggest change to the city centre in 150 years, according to council chiefs.
The peaks and troughs of a double-dip recession, the downfall of heavy industry giants and the upsurge in digital technology have led Leeds’ so-called South Bank to become a patchwork of barren brownfield land, modern apartment blocks and creative businesses.
Now with Leeds seemingly on the up thanks to multi-million pound investment in the likes of Trinity Leeds and the First Direct Arena, Leeds City Council is hopeful the area that once housed Tetley Brewery will become “a 21st Century Leeds”.
The YEP understands ideas as outlandish as moving Leeds City Bus Station to create a transport interchange and moving the location of the proposed Leeds HS2 station are being bounded between the council and major stakeholders.
Meanwhile several construction projects to drive forward the expansive South Bank area below the River Aire, which stretches from Holbeck Urban Village in the west to Leeds Dock in the east, are already at an advanced stage.
And as the council steps up its bid for private investment in the South Bank through a newly-developed business presentation, Coun Richard Lewis, executive member for city development, has revealed the local authority’s own hopes.
The council has earmarked 74acres of development land in the South Bank, while ideas for two new city centre bridges – one from Sovereign Street to Brewery Wharf and another south of Leeds Dock across to Cross Green – and plans for an 8.5acre city centre park are being mooted.
“This is the biggest change to the city centre in 150 years and we want people to express their views about what’s happening and have ownership over the process,” Coun Lewis said.
“We knew that whatever we came up with in 2010 would have already changed a huge amount because opportunities arise and landowner X decides to do Y and before you know it, something happens and it starts to look different.”
One such development, which was proposed after the council adopted its South Bank Planning Statement in 2011, is the plan to build the New Lane HS2 rail station near Bridgewater Place which, combined with the somewhat controversial £250million New Generation Transport (NGT) trolleybus scheme, is hoped to bring about a public transport revolution in the city.
But despite reports suggesting that building work on the New Lane station should begin within six years, Coun Lewis has hinted that its South Bank location is not set in stone. He said: “Regardless of where the HS2 station is, it’s going to have a great impact on that area and some of the shops in the area have shot up in price in anticipation.”
Explaining that the council was keen to see HS2, if it is to go ahead, integrated further with the existing train station, he said the idea of seeing HS2 come into Leeds from the east to make the city “a through route rather than a terminus” is still being discussed.
Even if HS2 chairman Sir David Higgins’ hopes to move forward with work on the new HS2 station in Leeds are realised, commuters could still have to wait until 2030 to see it in action, giving civic bosses time to discuss reshaping plans.
Earlier this year the council enlisted developer Arup and Gehl Architects to deliver a masterplan for a new-look South Bank, which is believed to cater to the possibility of the HS2 station being in different locations.
Coun Lewis added: “We haven’t got a bus interchange and I think among other things, HS2 would create a real opportunity for an interchange in the city.”
Green transport and pedestrianisation seem high on the council’s South Bank agenda, with the authority hopeful that a positive result in the ongoing trolleybus inquiry will add further to the area by rolling a new form of public transport from Stourton to Holt Park from 2020.
“With NGT and future NGT routes going through there, I see transport being central to how this area works in future. One of the curses we have, and we are going through it very much with Cityconnect, is how do we impose cycling schemes on existing road networks and we have to say it’s very difficult but here the opportunities are far greater about getting it right,” Coun Lewis said. “We don’t need six-lane highways for cyclists, it can be much easier than that – it’s about making it a place where people can cycle and feel safe cycling.”
It is suggested road layouts will encourage more people to travel by foot or bike, with the car having a “subsidiary role”, and the creativity of locals will be central to achieving that.
Ideas such as the Hunslet Stray route for cyclists and pedestrians from Leeds Bridge to Leeds City College’s Printworks Campus put forward by Leeds Sustainable Development Group and the ‘Holbeck Highline’ community-led plan to turn an old south Leeds railway viaduct into a city walkway have been welcomed.
“There is a kind of creativity in people’s thinking about things you can do here that go beyond the standard developer fare,” Coun Lewis said.
And it is these kinds of links, for pedestrians and cyclists in particular, that are hoped to help create a sustainable future for the South Bank’s districts: Holbeck Urban Village, South Bank Central and Leeds Dock.
The former has been a slow starter, having first been targeted for redevelopment before the recession, but a vibrant community of creative and digital businesses looks soon to be added to by further residential developments – a plan for 744 new flats on Sweet Street and Manor Road was recently submitted.
Meanwhile South Bank Central, an area already home to Asda House and Leeds City College, will soon see Leeds College of Building open a £16m site there before the £25m Ruth Gorse Academy opens in 2016. The council hopes this will see a change of use for the area, fuelling more family housing alongside modern apartments.
“Suddenly we have got this huge educational hub with the colleges down there and in terms of Leeds with the north-south divide that’s been very significant. It’s the opportunity of this big site that kick starts it,” Coun Lewis said. “With flats and housing it becomes a proper place and a real community.”
Alongside a rejuvenated Leeds Dock, which since its rebranding by Allied London from Clarence Dock has started to show signs of progress, the whole of the South Bank is hoped to become a true expansion of the city centre.
The council wants the views of businesses, investors and the public to help transform the area, but suggestions of a single major development have not yet been warmly received.
Last month the YEP revealed plans from private developer One Leeds PLC for a 100-year £1bn transformation of South Bank Central on the old Tetley site, which included a World Trade Center at its heart.
One Leeds PLC presented an early draft of its ideas to the council, but Coun Lewis explained: “There were things they hadn’t appreciated about the scheme. There were no endorsements whatsoever.”
For the time being at least One Leeds is nothing more than a private company’s aspiration.
Instead, the council is inviting flexible forward thinking to help shape the future of the South Bank.
“We want to engage more and more people as they did 50 years ago before the building of the inner ring road, which was the last big change in the city centre,” Coun Lewis said. “It’s about future-proofing. It’s better to be able to set principles and be flexible.”
AN AREA WITH GREAT POTENTIAL
Landowners, residents, developers and businesses in Leeds are in little doubt as to the potential of Leeds’ South Bank.
Dr Kevin Grady, Leeds Civic Trust: “The trust is very enthusiastic about the potential of the South Bank and is keen to see it fulfil its great potential as a considerable extensionm to the city centre over the river.”
Jonathan Maud, Rushbond PLC: “The revitalisation of the city’s South Bank over the last decade is nothing short of remarkable. It is fantastic to see the area developing into a strong community which blends living, commerce, education and leisure so successfully.”
Paul Simmons, Igloo Regeneration: “Holbeck Urban Village area combines city centre convenience of public transport, road networks and parking with a village atmosphere.”
Michael Ingall, Allied London: “Leeds Dock will deliver an original, powerful cultural dimension to the lives of people in Leeds and Yorkshire, creating a vibrant, self-sustaining destination.”