A major regeneration project on one of Leeds’ oldest streets will still go ahead - despite a devastating fire that left one of its shops gutted earlier this month,
The fire at Hills Furniture Shop, on Lower Kirkgate, caused serious structural damage to the building, which was subsequently demolished. There were doubts as to whether the council’s Lower Kirkgate Townscape Heritage Initiative project could continue.
But chiefs have today insisted the project will go ahead - and the fire will not impact on plans to restore the street to its former glory.
Councillor Richard Lewis, Leeds City Council’s executive member for regeneration, transport and planning, said: “The fire was obviously unfortunate and caused a significant amount of damage and disruption while the site was made safe.
“Despite this, we remain resolute in our determination to see this historic part of Leeds restored, refurbished and improved in a way that’s befitting of its importance to the city’s heritage.”
And the local authority has said the demolition of Hills has actually revealed a number of features, including what could be a medieval timber framed building.
“These features had remained completely hidden until the demolition. Officers are now working with Historic England to record the new information from the demolition site.” Lower Kirkgate was once the centre of Leeds’ historic cloth industry, and the regeneration project will cost an estimated £2.6m - £1.05m of which was provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Coun Lewis added: “This sad incident has further emphasised just how historically important the area is and what a significant opportunity it represents to revitalise what we firmly believe can be a vibrant part of the of the city centre.
“The Townscape Heritage Initiative provides a once in a generation chance for owners to refurbish properties which are in need of repair, making them more attractive to shoppers and bringing new businesses into vacant premises.
“This is a long term vision, but the people of Leeds can be assured that the council is committed to ensuring that Lower Kirkgate is a place which the whole city can be proud of again.”
At the time of the fire, the owner of Hills, Audrey Noble said the impact had been “traumatic”.
She had run the shop since her husband Gordon’s death two and a half years ago. She said: “My husband was a workaholic. This was his life.
“It has been traumatic. My daughters are really upset – it’s like losing a bit of their father.”
Police said at the time of the blaze that it was not started under suspicious circumstances.
The Lower Kirkgate Townscape Heritage Initiative, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), aims to regenerate the landmark First White Cloth Hall and other historic buildings.
The scheme has seen a total £1.05m awarded to the project from the HLF, which will be matched with £668k public funding.
This, along with £894k potential private funding, could bring the total investment to an estimated £2.6m.
The First White Cloth Hall, built in 1710, was one of the city’s most important buildings in the industrial revolution.