Historic south Leeds church spire one step closer to salvation

Efforts to save a grade II listed church spire in south Leeds look to be one step closer as council chiefs confirm they have entered negotiations with church leaders over restoration work on the structure.

By Richard Beecham
Tuesday, 3rd May 2022, 12:21 pm

The main St Mary's Church building in Hunslet was demolished in 2015 due to subsidence, but the spire remains standing.

In a letter to Leeds City Council earlier this month, residents in Hunslet warned the iconic landmark was falling into disrepair and that it needed to be saved - adding that Hunslet losing the spire would be "like Blackpool without its tower".

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Campaigners outside the spire earlier this month.

A new report from Leeds City Council officers states that structural condition of the spire is a "key challenge", and that while studies claim the church tower is in a “reasonable structural condition”, work is still needed rebuild parts of the tower at low level. Officers added that the spire has suffered water ingress and "significant work" is needed to envelop the building.

The Potts clock also needs restoration to protect against further deterioration, while the large ringing bells have been removed and this "would be another element to consider during any restoration works".

The council report added that talks with the diocese of Leeds, which owns the tower, had taken place recently, and that it hopes to make progress on securing emergency works to the structure "within a year".

It said: "[The diocese] have stated that they have a “plan of action” and intend to commission a more comprehensive report to identify and cost up what works would be required to stabilise the condition of the tower and prevent deterioration.

"This will form the basis of further discussions with the council about the future of the site as a whole although it is not clear if this includes a discussion about the potential housing option for the site.

"In first instance, it is considered that the council should open discussions with the diocese and agree a timetable for emergency repairs and improvements to the setting of the church to improve its appearance."

As part of the council's talks with the diocese, it says the opportunity to buy the site to build affordable council housing, and ultimately help restore the tower, was looked into, but a feasibility study showed this would bring "significant challenges, constraints and viability concerns".

The report added: "The council should request a response from the diocese about the issues raised in the feasibility study for the housing development and progress discussions if it appears that there is a viable scheme.

"It is hoped that progress will be made with the diocese on the repair of the tower, but the council should keep the use of its statutory powers in reserve in case it is not possible to secure repairs in an appropriate timetable or the agreed timetable for carrying out the works has passed."

According to a published decision notice, the council has agreed to engage with the Anglican Diocese of Leeds to secure emergency repairs and improvements, while also looking into the possibility of s redevelopment scheme to ensure the future maintenance of the tower, which would include further repairs and access of the community to the war memorial within the grounds.

The report added: "As a last resort, in the absence of satisfactory progress in achieving the above, consider the use of the council’s statutory powers to secure emergency repairs and improvements to the setting of St Mary’s Church."

It is not known how long it will be before any work will take place, though the report stated: "It is hoped that significant progress can be made on

securing emergency repairs to the tower and improving the appearance of the site within a year. It is not certain whether there is a viable proposal for development of the site until the diocese have responded to the issues raised in the council feasibility study."

Speaking to the YEP earlier this month, Kenny Saunders, chair of Hunslet Carr Residents Association, detailed how "Hunslet without a spire would be like Blackpool without a tower."

"It's one of the tallest spires in Leeds so to lose it would be a massive landmark gone." he said.

"Whenever you come along the M1 or the M621 you can see it for miles and it is there to let you know that you are almost home."