Make Leeds city centre more friendly to cash-strapped teenagers and young adults, meeting hears
Leeds city centre needs to become more friendly for teenagers and young adults who don’t have much money to spend in shops, a meeting of councillors heard this week.
A Leeds City Council scrutiny board meeting met to discuss a report into the future of the district’s centres, as it was claimed Covid-19 had accelerated trends towards people working from home, which could have long term knock-on effects on the city centre economy.
Coun Katie Dye (Lab) said many young people enjoy spending time in the city centre, but do not have much money to spend, and their needs should be looked at.
But opposition councillor Paul Wadsworth (Con) said more people needed to be spending money in shops in the city centre in order to prop up Leeds’ economy in the wake of Covid.
The discussion follows a recent report by Leeds City Council officers said the city centre’s economic future lies away from retail, and more should be done to increase leisure and green space areas.
Speaking at a meeting of the council’s infrastructure scrutiny board, Coun Dye said: “I was struck by a comment that somebody had written – the city centre is more inclusive and less about spending money,
“I have a lot of comments made to me by young people saying they like being in the city centre, but they don’t have a lot of money to spend there, so they prefer to have things to do that aren’t them going into big shops.
“They like things like pop-up markets and kilo sales and stuff like that. Is that something worth focussing on? It is nice to be somewhere where something like that is happening.
“It is nice to find something round the corner and be different. A lot of people are excited about the vegan market, and they really liked that.”
She joked: “Let’s make the city centre teenage friendly, then they are all out of the house.”
The report 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 continually saw footfall at least two thirds down on usual levels.
Coun Wadsworth said that it would be difficult to make changes to how people access the city centre, using cycling as an example.
He said: “Despite all the investment we have put into cycling in this city – the costs have been massive in finance and at the expense of road space – we get a small growth.
“That tells us we have to invest extraordinary amounts of money to get a medium growth.
“Car use has been unchanged despite a number of measures that have reduced road space, and the bus usage had collapsed, and is not expected to come back a great deal.”
Responding to Coun Dye, he added: “I take the point that a lot of young people don’t have money to spend but, unfortunately, if we don’t have people spending money in the city centre, the businesses won’t survive, and the city centre will contract.
“It’s the way life goes and the way business goes – we have to extract some of the available money via city centre retailers.
“It’s a system we have to change and we have to get people spending.”
Coun Jonathan Bentley (Lib Dem) also bemoaned the lack of affordable public transport in parts of the city, adding: “Having a nice city centre is all very well, but it’s quite expensive to get there if you don’t have access to a car – (using) train or bus or whatever.
“It’s about this exclusion of great swathes of our population which I am concerned about.”
Senior Leeds City Council officer Eve Roodhouse said: “We have spent more time in our local areas and less time on public transport – that means trends from before Covid-19 have accelerated.
“Working from home was there for certain businesses and parts of the economy before Covid, but we have seen a huge increase in that.
“Cities like Leeds need to think about what that means and what we can do to respond to that.”
Responding to Coun Wadsworth, she said: “We have worked really collaboratively with different teams across the city. Visit Leeds, Leeds BID, Otley BID to make sure we keep city centres and local centres clean and welcoming.”
Responding to Coun Dye, she added: “We have talked to the independent sector throughout Covid-19 and there is an opportunity for us to keep doing that and nurturing that.”
The report claimed 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.
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