Leeds city centre needs more green space and transport links and fewer shops, report says

A report set to go before Leeds City Council officers has laid bare the challenges facing the city centre following the Covid-19 pandemic, adding that its economic future lies away from retail.

It said Covid-19 is accelerating changes to the way people live, work and shop, and more needs to be done to keep up with the changes, in some cases causing “five years of change in less than six months”, due in part to the increase in working from home.

The report stated: “Covid-19 has changed the way we think about place and how we use our spaces, as well as how we travel, work and shop.

“Before the coronavirus pandemic we knew that the way we worked and shopped was already changing, but the crisis has altered these further and work and leisure patterns now appear to be accelerating previous trends, such as working from home.

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At the peak of the pandemic, Leeds city centre has continually seen footfall at least two thirds down on usual levels.
At the peak of the pandemic, Leeds city centre has continually seen footfall at least two thirds down on usual levels.

“The pandemic is accelerating trends in our centres and posing huge questions for cities like Leeds Some sectors have seen five years of change occurring in less than six months, with

Covid-19 accelerating structural trends around digital transformation, remote working and the shift from ‘bricks to clicks’ in retail.”

It added that shops in major city centres, such as Leeds, are being impacted by the reduction in office workers, many of whom are now working from home.

At the peak of the pandemic, Leeds city centre has continually seen footfall at least two thirds down on usual levels.

The report stated: “Changing work patterns pose a risk to the economic growth and business activity created from knowledge-intensive industries working in close proximity that we have seen in recent years in the city centre.

It added that the “role of centres will need to be less about retail consumption” in the future, and that there was a “significant opportunity” for culture and leisure to form the future offer of Leeds city centre.

Among ways in which this could be done, “curating a diverse mix of uses” to attract people back into the city centre was suggested, as well as improving transport links and increasing the number of city centre green spaces.

“Many businesses are now considering how best to capitalise on these trends to support flexible working and reduce their office space.

"Major city centre retail locations are also being impacted by a reduction in office workers and shoppers.

“There have been some positive opportunities for our district centres, however, by enabling some to capture more spend locally; although they too will be challenged by the huge changes in the retail sector.”

Members of Leeds City Council’s infrastructure scrutiny board will meet to discuss the report on Thursday, July 22.