'Absolutely gorgeous': 32-storey Merrion Street Leeds tower block approved

Plans for a 32-storey student tower block have been approved by planning chiefs, who described the designs as “iconic”, “beautiful” and “absolutely gorgeous”.

Friday, 7th August 2020, 3:50 pm
Updated Friday, 7th August 2020, 3:54 pm

The ambitious plans to replace the former Santander offices on Merrion Street with a student accommodation tower block went before Leeds City Council’s city plans panel this week.

Applicants Merrion St (Leeds) Ltd plan to replace the 1980s redbrick structure with a 32-storey tower containing 660 student “bedspaces”.

The report added the ground floor would contain a “small retail space” and student amenity space. Bike and bin storage areas would also be provided at this level, located towards the eastern edge of the building. It is also proposed that the mezzanine level should house a “community/arts centre” with street access.

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An artist's impression of the proposed tower.

Councillors on the committee spoke unanimously in favour of the plans, with many believing it can become the iconic building that Leeds City Centre needs.

Coun David Blackburn (Green) said: “When we had the pre-application in February, my view would be that it was too tall. But you might call me ‘converted’ because I think it looks fantastic.

“The operational carbon things are just great, so I’m happy to support it.”

A “pre-application” hearing, in which councillors are encouraged to make comments on earlier forms of the plans, took place earlier this year.

Coun Colin Campbell (Lib Dem) said: “We expressed concerns about the height in the pre-application . But having gone on the site visit, seeing it in context allows you to get a better opinion on how it will affect the surrounding area.

“I am happy with the size and massing. If the materials are good, it could look very interesting on Merrion Street. Anything that lifts the area around the church is a positive in my opinion.”

Coun Al Garthwaite (Lab): “I have been reassured about the greenery and there is a lot more to it than was evidenced first of all by the pictures.

“Students will come to fill it – applications are up.

“The cost for this sort of accommodation does put off some, but the buildings are well managed and antisocial behaviour around the buildings is discouraged.

“It’s a handsome building and I am happy to support the application.”

Coun Peter Gruen (Lab): “We say we want these kind of buildings to be iconic, different and for architects to use their imaginations, and when they do we need to support that.

“It will make a real statement in that part of the city.”

Coun Graham Latty went one further, adding: “I think it’s absolutely gorgeous.

“We have had nothing like John Lewis since then, and I love to be back involved again with something like that.”

Coun Sharon Hamilton (Lab): “I do like the look of it. It looks really beautiful.

“Things can only get better from here. When councillors are criticising and always wanting the best. From John Lewis to this, it is really beautiful.”

Chairing the meeting, Coun James McKenna (Lab) said: “I always had the feeling Leeds needed that iconic building and this could be it.”

The scheme would replace the redbrick former Santander building, which has sat on the site since the early 1980s, and is nearby to other proposed and completed student accommodation buildings including Hume House on Wade Lane and Symons House in Belgrave Street.

The application had received four letters of objection, raising concerns such as the overbearing nature of the building, as well as fears of a rise in antisocial behaviour and crime.

A report, set to go before members of the council’s city plans panel, claimed Leeds Civic Trust also complained that the tower would be “unacceptably dominant, overbearing and intrusive”.

Letters sent in support of the proposals, however, claimed the architecture would “enhance the streetscape”, and that the glass tower was “visually appealing”.

It was recommended that the panel accepted the plans in principle, and leave details to planning officers, subject to a contribution of £400,000 from developers to nearby highways improvements and public access.

The proposals were passed unanimously by the panel.