Historic Leeds trading hub all set for a new lease of life

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Plans have been unveiled to revitalise Leeds’s most important historic industrial building.

The First White Cloth Hall in Lower Kirkgate, erected in 1710, is where the city’s textile trading culture began, sowing the seeds for the city’s eventual leading role as an industrial powerhouse.

However the building is falling apart and needs urgent repairs.

Leeds City Council is in talks with the owners to take over the building on a long lease, and is drawing up initial plans for survey work.

The repair works will form part of a major £2.4m lottery funded project, which will also see more done to improve the Lower Kirkgate part of the city centre, which many consider to be the city’s oldest street.

As part of the wider Townscape Heritage Initiative funding, grants will also be available for repair and restoration of shop fronts, structural issues, roofing and key architectural features. It is hoped some of those improvement works can begin later this summer.

The idea, say council bosses, is to encourage independent retail, and try and create a “beautiful blend” of big business and the independent sector.

Speaking after the council’s cabinet approved the initial plan, Transport and the Economy portfolio holder councillor Richard Lewis, said: “This funding package is a fantastic opportunity to save a building that represents a significant piece of our city’s heritage.

“The development of the First White Cloth Hall was a major step forward on the path to making Leeds a powerful and wealthy industrial city.

“Leeds has a strong and proud industrial heritage - restoring the First White Cloth Hall will help preserve that history for future generations to enjoy.

“But it’s not just about this building alone: the initiative will also regenerate Lower Kirkgate, which is a centre for the independent retail sector. Leeds city centre is not just about Trinity and John Lewis - Lower Kirkgate is one of the few parts of the city that remain in need of regeneration.”

The First White Cloth Hall was originally a response to news that a covered cloth market was to be built in Wakefield in a bid to tempt trade of undyed cloth away from Leeds. The Hall, now a Grade II listed building, was a huge success and Leeds’ dominance in the cloth trade was assured.

It is hoped the investment will help bring 100 jobs and almost 3000 sq m of floor space back into use. Initial surveys and archaeological investigations will help draw up a feasibility study and there will be public consultation ahead of any work.

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