36-floor student supertower design wins initial backing from Leeds plans chiefs

Initial design proposals for a 36-storey student flats development in Wade Lane, Leeds city centre.  IMAGE: OConnell East Architects/Olympian Homes  and below Hume House, Leeds, a 1960s building which would be demolished to make way for the new 36-storey tower. PIC: � Stephen Richards (cc-by-sa/2.0)
Initial design proposals for a 36-storey student flats development in Wade Lane, Leeds city centre. IMAGE: OConnell East Architects/Olympian Homes and below Hume House, Leeds, a 1960s building which would be demolished to make way for the new 36-storey tower. PIC: � Stephen Richards (cc-by-sa/2.0)
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Proposals for a 36-storey 754-flat student accommodation tower in Leeds city centre have won praise from council planning chiefs ahead of a formal application being lodged.

Hopes are now high that work on the building in Wade Lane - in the bustling Arena Quarter - could start as early as the summer, with completion by the start of the 2021/22 academic year, subject to planning approval.

Initial images of how the finished building - which would be among the city’s tallest - might look were presented to the City Plans Panel at Leeds Civic Hall today.

Councillors were told that there are several other tower block developments in the immediate vicinity and the area has been identified as “appropriate for tall buildings” in the council’s own policy.

The apartments would offer “high quality professionally managed accommodation”, with the additional “strategic benefit” of freeing up family homes in the city’s traditional student heartlands, representatives from applicant Olympian Homes told the meeting.

Architect Gary East said the design team was “very conscious” of providing something “permanent and dignified”.

One of the “focal points” for the building would be a series of ‘totems’ designed to mitigate the risk of high winds, the panel heard.

Councillors were also told that the building would be highly secure, with access via programmed fobs to all areas and rooms.

Coun Christine Macniven asked if there was a risk of creating an “oversupply of student accommodation in that area”, which already has a number of student blocks, and several more in the pipeline.

But Simon Murray-Twinn, chief executive of applicant Olympian Homes, assured the panel that “Leeds still has room for more students”.

He said research had shown that student numbers are growing in the city as its Universities continue to prosper.

He said this was also “clearly” having a knock on effect on family housing in traditional student areas.

Councillor Graham Latty said he also had “misgivings” about the number of student buildings, but congratulated the applicant on the design.

Councillor Asghar Khan added: “I am very impressed with the building design. When complete it will be a remarkable building and will be there for a long time.”

Coun Neil Walshaw agreed the design was “really, really strong”.

But he also noted: “Fairly soon we will need...to look at the quantum of developments of tower blocks in the area”.

The application from Olympian Homes follows a previous plan for a 40 storey tower block on the same site, which was scrapped and the land sold on.

‘WE HAVE THE POWER TO SHAPE OUR SKYSCAPE - BUT LET’S NOT DISTORT CITY CENTRE LIVING’

Balance, high quality and diversity are all vital to the success of future development in Leeds city centre, according to a senior planning expert.

Councillor Peter Gruen said he believes in a “vibrant and diverse city centre that caters and welcomes people of all ages and means and walks of life”.

He warned against trends that “distort city centre living”.

However he also praised the latest tower block proposals for Wade Lane, adding that the design “set the quality threshold” for other tall buildings yet to come.

“We need buildings of this type to be iconic, to have a lasting legacy and that we can be proud of,” he told colleagues on Leeds Council’s City Plans Panel.

“This building will be important and I welcome the quality and the way it looks.

“We have the ability on this panel to manage our skyscape.

“We need ingenuity and creativity to make the right decisions.”

He said the council should show some “strategic vision”, and lead the shaping of the city’s urban landscape, rather than being “reactive”.