Plans unveiled for new riverside visitor centre in Leeds market town

Plans have been unveiled for a new riverside visitor centre and café in the heart of Otley.

The proposal would also include public toilets and car park on the former site of the old Bridge End Auction Mart.

The new centre would focus on the history and ecology of the market town’s riverside and would provide much needed additional car parking spaces to serve the riverside, the boats and Wharfemeadows Park and also the town centre, allowing access without needing to travel over the bridge.

The proposal would resolve the future of the currently empty and unused brownfield site, which was occupied by buildings at the heart of the community’s economic life until 2002, but which has since has an uncertain future. The Bridge End site was derelict for several years, following the closure of the historic Auction Mark in 2002. The site was threatened with housing development, something strongly opposed by the local community and local councillors.

The current plans are being put forward by local family, the Houldsworths, with Richard, Mathew and Amy coordinating the project. They are supported by Otley Chamber of Trade and Otley Bid as well as local businesses.

The Houldsworths bought the site in 2014 to secure the future for the community and to open up the possibility of delivering a new visitor centre and café. In 2017, they cleared 800 tonnes of concrete to tidy up the site. As well as being an eyesore, the concrete base of the old auction market was restricting access. The work was welcomed by Otley Show and Otley Carnival with the site being so important to both events.

The whole proposal has been designed to work and on the Otley Flood Alleviation Scheme and would not impact the land. The visitor centre would be constructed on stilts to enable flood waters to flow freely underneath in line with the new flood alleviation scheme. In addition, the operation of the car park would be aligned with the Environment Agency’s local flood warning arrangements with the car park is closed and vehicles subject to removal in the event of flood warnings.

The project doesn’t need any council or taxpayers’ funding – just needs permission from Leeds City Council and approval from the Environment Agency.

Amy Houldsworth said: “There’s a unique opportunity to deliver a riverside visitor centre, café and carpark for Otley on the site of the old Bridge End Auction mart. The centre, which will focus on the history and ecology of Otley’s important riverside would be create a new attraction for locals and visitors and with the café and carpark will provide a boost to Otley’s economy and we’re delighted it has the support of Otley Chamber of Trade and Otley Bid.

“This exciting proposal would resolve the future for the old Bridge End Auction Mart site, which is a brownfield site and secure it permanently for the Otley community as well as fulfilling its important role as access for Otley Show”.

Richard Houldsworth said: “We purchased this important site for the community when it had been threatened with housing development and have since spent a considerable amount of money tidying up the site.

“We have designed the plan specifically to work on and with the flood defences and would have no impact on them on the land. The proposal recognises the importance of the site position in the functional floodplain, whilst bringing the site back into community use in line with its history for over 100 years. We look forward to working with local representatives to deliver this for the people of Otley”.

Tom Hatley of Otley BID said: “Otley Business Improvement District (BID) fully support the proposed redevelopment of the former Bridge End Auction Mart site. A visitor centre would provide a clear focal point for coach tours and day visitors to park and explore the riverside amenities, as well as the town centre. It would encourage more people to visit Otley which would only be of benefit to our town's businesses and the local economy. Otley's residents would see huge benefits too as currently there is a severe lack of parking and clean, modern toilet facilities by the riverside, which this scheme would deliver. A car park at Bridge End would also provide residents north of the river with the option to park and walk into the town centre, reducing traffic congestion and pollution.”

He added: “It's a challenging time for Otley's businesses and local council resources are very stretched. We need local private investment and schemes like this one to enhance and progress our town. We encourage Leeds City Council and the Environment Agency to work with the Houldsworth Family and find a way to deliver this scheme”.