£5m revamp will give some love back to Leeds city centre’s own ‘mini Soho’

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The so-called ‘Grand Quarter’ is like Leeds’s “own mini Soho” and investment in it could be integral to the success of the city’s European Capital of Culture bid, senior councillors have been told.

As revealed by the YEP earlier in the week, Leeds City Council is putting together plans for a £5million overhaul of the city centre area, which includes the Grand Theatre, Howard Assembly Room, St John’s Church, Merrion Street Gardens and Grand Arcade, and is seen as having been in “decline” in recent years.

The revamp is dependent on a successful bid for £2.5m from the Heritage Lottery, which would help leverage match funding from the private sector and a £500,000 council contribution.

Councillor Richard Lewis, the council’s executive board member for regeneration and planning, told cabinet colleagues at their monthly meeting earlier today (Wednesday) that the Grand Quarter was a “principal thoroughfare” but was not living up to its name.

“In many ways it’s not so ‘Grand’, with its plethora of takeaways and what-have-you,” he said.

“We have got a part of Briggate which clearly doesn’t punch above its weight.

“It serves a purpose and if you’re catching a late night bus home, you can always get something to eat.

“But really, there’s a lot of empty space above shops. It’s an area which doesn’t have the economic activity it should have - and much more can be done.”

The council is resubmitting a bid for Townscape Heritage funding after an initial Stage 1 bid was rejected.

Coun Lewis insisted the authority still has “a very good track record” on winning heritage funding - for example with projects in Lower Kirkgate, Armley and Chapeltown - and it was “important we keep on the pressure to try and get extra funding”.

There was cross party support for the resubmission of the funding bid - but also a note of caution about over gentrifying the area.

Opposition Lib Dem group leader Stewart Golton suggested that the Grand Quarter was like Leeds’s “own mini Soho” and most people in the city would have had experienced it at some level.

“I hope that in the refurbishment, we don’t lose some of that democracy,” he said.

“So, for instance, I’m not sure we should completely turn our noses up at fast food establishments. And let’s make sure that we can reaccommodate them, if not in the same place then somewhere that suits their business needs.”

Responding, Coun Lewis said: “I don’t see this as us indulging in social cleansing.

“There is a lot, architecturally, that really needs bringing out and could make a much bigger contribution to the city.”

Councillor Andrew Carter, leader of the main opposition Conservative group, said he was “very supportive” of the overall plans, adding: “Anyone who knows that area at all knows it is in significant need of redevelopment. Let’s hope it comes off this time.”

And councillor Lucinda yeadon, deputy leader of the council, said: “As we move forward with our bid for the Capital of Culture, it’s these kind of schemes which will make us very different to the rest.”