AN evening ban on traffic in key parts of Leeds city centre will attract more shoppers for longer, and boost its growing night-time economy and its status as a major national retail destination.
That is the hope from council bosses as they bid to pedestrianise large swathes of the city’s ‘retail core’ well into the evening.
Currently, streets like Albion Street, Albion Place, King Edward St, Commercial Street, part of Kirkgate, Lands Lane and Central Road are closed to traffic between 10.30am and 4.30pm. However under new plans to be debated by the authority’s decision-makers next week, those hours - mainly affecting delivery vehicles - could be extended to 7pm.
The changes follow a two-year drive by the council. Around 300 city centre businesses were consulted , and there were initially scores of objections. But after the timing was amended from 8pm to 7pm, just four objections have been received to the latest plans, mostly from independent retailers.
A report to Leeds city council’s executive board says: “Retail hours are getting longer, with many retailers in Leeds open until 8pm. This will develop a broader and more cosmopolitan evening economy, which is more attractive to visitors, including families.”
Research has shown that at 4.30pm, when vehicles are allowed on to the affected streets, there can be up to 20,000 pedestrians still milling about in the pedestrianised core.
“It is therefore important the pedestrianised hours are extended so that the city centre’s pedestrianised area remains an attractive and safe destination for visitors,” the report says.
Coun Richard Lewis, Leeds council’s executive board member for economy and development, said: “It is important for Leeds city centre to provide a high-quality shopping and leisure experience for customers, particularly with the challenges posed by online and out-of-town retailing.
“Many stores in Leeds are open until 8pm and we believe that letting vehicles onto our main shopping streets at 4.30pm is simply too early.
“Extending the hours during which the central retail core is pedestrianised is essential in making the area even more attractive for shoppers. We believe this to be a very sensible compromise.”
Conservative councillor Dan Cohen, who sits on the council’s economy and culture scrutiny board, said there were “clearly a number of benefits” to the plans, but urged for further assurances from the council that no small businesses are going to be damaged by the plans.