Revival plan for Leeds’s oldest building in city’s oldest street

A BLUEPRINT to transform Leeds’s oldest building in the city’s oldest street - and make it the “centrepiece and catalyst” for a wider regeneration vision - will come before planning chiefs next week.

The council’s City Plans Panel is being asked to approve the proposals to breathe new life into the 300-year-old First White Cloth Hall, in the historic Kirkgate area.

First White White Cloth Hall in ruins 6 Oct 2010. Reproduced courtesy of Leeds Civic Trust.

The plans include a newly rebuilt west wing, a covered courtyard with glazed atrium, and a host of work to create a mixed use building with offices, a bar and a cafe.

The fate of the dilapidated building, which dates from 1711, has been a talking point for almost a decade.

It has been on the Heritage at Risk Register since 1999 and in 2011, half of it was demolished after the collapse of neighbouring 101 Kirkgate.

There was briefly talk of the council making a compulsory purchase of the building. But it was bought last year by the Rushbond group - which also owns the Corn Exchange and the Majestic building - and the firm has now developed and finalised the initial design proposals.

Papers being presented to the plans panel next week say the aim is to “repair and restore the First White Cloth Hall and provide a viable space” for a multitude of new uses.

As well as “essential repairs”, the masterplan will restore the west wing, create a “high quality glazed atrium” and reinstate the cupola dome.

The latter was included on the advice of heritage expert Dr Kevin Grady, former head of Leeds Civic Trust, who said the dome was “crucial to both physical identity of the building and to highlight and celebrate its important economic function”.

The report to the plans panel also notes that Leeds Civic Trust has complimented the “positive attitude towards this very historic, important but problematic building”.

However another commenter, quoted in the report, warned that further demolition work might “put the already fragile building at greater risk of collapse”, and suggested the new designs were “outmoded” and “damaging to the wider streetscape of Kirkgate”.

Council officers are recommending approval of the plans.

Their report says the plans represent “the culmination of many years of debate on the future of this important building”, adding: “The scheme is an important opportunity to sensitively repair and restore the oldest building on Leeds’ oldest street, and bring one of the city’s most important historic buildings at is back into active viable use, to become the centrepiece and catalyst for the regeneration of the Kirkgate area.”

The report adds the plans “strike an appropriate balance” between “conserving the historic fabric” and “introducing creative yet sensitive new design”.

A PIECE OF LEEDS’S TEXTILE HISTORY

The First White Cloth Hall (FWCH) was built in 1711 to head off a challenge from Wakefield, which had built a cloth hall in the previous year with the intention of becoming the centre of the region’s white undyed cloth trade.

The building was listed Grade II* in 1983 in recognition of its historic importance to the economic history of the region and the nation.

In 2012, the council won £1.5m from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for lower Kirkgate. A maximum of £500,000 of the funding is ring-fenced for the First White Cloth Hall.

A design statement detailing the proposed restoration says the hall sits at the “historic core” of the city and is surrounded by some of Leeds’s “most architecturally significant buildings”, including the Cor Exchange, Leeds Parish Church and Kirkgate Market.

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