Housing, transport and strengthening the city centre economy are key priorities for taking Leeds forward in 2017.
In an exclusive interview with City Buzz, Tom Bridges, the Chief Officer for Economy and Regeneration at Leeds City Council, outlined the main targets for the authority in order to capitalise on the huge developments that have already taken place in the city this year.
While there has been a huge focus on retail provision and increasing footfall with the opening of Victoria Gate, John Lewis and the upgrades at Kirkgate Markets, he says it is time to improve other parts of the city infrastructure in order to maximise the benefits.
Consultation finished earlier this month on the proposed South Bank project which is set to double the size of Leeds city centre.
In a series of sub projects, 180 hectares of land (the equivalent to 250 football pitches) that lies south of the River Aire will be regenerated, providing in the region of 35,000 jobs and 4,000 new homes.
Within that there will be schemes to redirect traffic around the city centre creating a better pedestrian and cyclist environment, increasing the amount of public transport and extending bus routes, a new parking strategy, a HS2 station, creation of six pieces of public open space and continuation of the vision for mixed use living which will see zones for commercial development, residential and housing, community facilities and education.
Mr Bridges said: “For South Bank we had over 2,000 responses. It is one of the most significant regeneration projects in Europe and will be the same size as Edinburgh new town.
“South Bank will be the big thing for the next year. It is long term planning and aspirations but there are opportunities for schemes to come forward and get started in the coming year.”
These may be redevelopment of the Tetley Brewery site, Burberrys in Leeds and also Tower Works.
Within the South Bank document there are plans for better transport links – boosted by the announcement earlier this month of a £270m investment which will see extra railway stations being built among other projects.
Mr Bridges added: “In our plans we are talking about buses and the whole city centre network, making it easier to get around as a pedestrian and a cyclist.
“Having that network and infrastructure, which might be public piazzas and signeage as much as roads, is really important for sustaining the growth of the city.”
Also central to that, he added, is looking after the council’s own purse in what continue to be tough economic times.
The re-development of Merrion House which will enable more staff to be based there, reducing the number of council buildings from 15 to four will also be a long term investment and benefit.
Mr Bridges added: “It will save the taxpayer in the next three years, around £4.5m.
“But as well as making savings we will get more revenue from business rates and council tax.
“In the context of facing challenges we have got to be more efficient but retain that ambition. In an era where there is less money in the public sector we have got to focus on what we can achieve.”