Planning chiefs voice support for Merrion Centre tower development

Entrance to the old cinema in the Merrion Centre.
Entrance to the old cinema in the Merrion Centre.

Planning chiefs have heard early plans to replace part of a Leeds shopping centre, along with its historic cinema, with a 17-storey tower.

A pre-application proposal to build the tower on the north side of the Merrion Centre was discussed at Leeds City Council’s city plans panel. The meeting heard the tower would be a mix of offices and retail, on the north side of the Merrion Centre.

The 6.5-acre site is currently home to shops including Bonmarche and Home Bargains, along with a cinema that has not been in use since the late 1970s.

The proposed building would have ground floor retail spaces, three floors of co-working space and 13 floors of offices.

The meeting also heard how the StepChange debt charity, currently housed in the nearby Wade House, would be relocated to the new tower.

But members disagreed on the building.

Coun Ann Blackburn (Green) said: “Again it is glass, which is good. But for it to be 17-storeys it just has to have something a bit different – some character. It’s too bland.”

Coun Tom Leadley (MBI) told the meeting: “These days 17 storeys is quite modest.

“The main worry would be the wind problem. Wade Lane is fairly windy already – you don’t want people to be blown over.”

But Conservative councillor Paul Wadsworth supported the application, saying: “I like it – it looks very attractive, but I think it will make Wade House very unattractive when it is built.”

Another representative for the applicant said: “Wade House is fully occupied at present – we would expect some of our tenants to move from there into the new building.

“This will help us then focus on the external appearance of Wade House.”

Coun Al Garthwaite (Lab) added: “I like it on the whole, but I look forward to the plans in more detail.”

Coun Dan Cohen (Con) said: “I like it, but I take the point that more iconic status could be a little higher. It looks like a fab development and I look forward to seeing them.”

The plans come despite news last month that the former cinema site was up for let after decades of dereliction.

The cinema, which was open for only 13 years, is located above Home Bargains. Some projection equipment and seats have been removed but many of the original features remain including drapes, carpets, posters and the screen.

A council report into the pre-application plans states: “The scheme is proposed to create flexible office and co-working space as well as creating a reconfigured retail unit at ground floor level, facing in to the mall.

“The site is within the prime shopping area of the city centre and as such the retention of retail presence is acceptable for the host unit and the wider Merrion Centre.

“The office and co-working space would be served by a ground floor lobby but would have its work spaces laid out at levels from the first to the 17th floor. As such, the proposed office space addition would not be detrimental to the retail functions of the Merrion Centre, the prime shopping area or to Leeds City Centre’s role as a regional shopping centre.”

A detailed planning application is expected to be submitted to Leeds City Council in the coming months.