South Bank vision means Leeds city centre is going places

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THEY are two short words but, taken together, ones that have been the subject of an awful lot of headlines during 2016.

The South Bank, a part of Leeds touted as offering some of the most exciting regeneration opportunities anywhere in Europe.

Should the plans for the area reach fruition, we have been told, then Leeds’s city centre will effectively double in size.

But, for some people, what the South Bank is – and where it is – remains a fairly hazy concept.

So this week the Yorkshire Evening Post is running a series of in-depth articles on proposals designed to make it one of the country’s most vibrant places to work, rest and play.

Over each of the next four days, we will be looking at what the South Bank has to offer in terms of everything from jobs and education to homes and leisure.

Coun Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, told the YEP today: “The reason it is so exciting is that its location and scale means it is a rare opportunity to be found in a city of this size anywhere in the world.

“Our ambition for the South Bank is to be as bold as we can be, to think differently with a mix of building uses and making the most of attractive and imaginative public spaces such as through a major new city park, as well as making creative use of the waterfront and the River Aire.

“It is not just about jobs or houses or business investment or transport or places to learn and play, it is about all of those elements combining in a really strong package which complement and enhance their surroundings.”

Covering a space the size of 250 football pitches, the South Bank runs along the southern side of the Aire and roughly stretches from Holbeck to Leeds Dock.

There is, however, no set boundary for the area and civic leaders are keen for nearby neighbourhoods such as Beeston and Richmond Hill to benefit from its regeneration.

They are also stressing that doubling the size of the city centre would not be a case of simply duplicating what already exists.

The council’s vision for turning the South Bank into a distinctive yet still integrated Leeds community includes:

* Providing 35,000 jobs across sectors such as financial, professional, creative and digital;

* Building 4,000 homes for people of all ages, including families;

* Redeveloping the Leeds City Station site into a national transport hub capable of handling north-south HS2 and transpennine HS3 high-speed rail services;

Of course, this will not happen overnight – much of it will take shape during the next 15 years or so, with HS2 services not due to start running to Leeds until 2032.

But the council says progress to date means the South Bank is already one of the “largest and most successful city centre regeneration initiatives in the country”.

Firms such as Vastint, Burberry and Citu have committed millions of pounds of investment to the area.

More than 300 creative and digital businesses are also operating at South Bank sites including Holbeck’s historic Round Foundry and Tower Works.

Recent additions to the landscape include the southern entrance at Leeds City Station and new campuses for Leeds City College and Leeds College of Building.

And this is not the first time that the South Bank has played its part in the transformation of Leeds.

Holbeck was the engine that drove the city forward during the Industrial Revolution, with grand projects such as the Grade I-listed ‘Egyptian Temple’ at Temple Works and the Italianate towers at Tower Works reflecting the civic pride of the period.

Renovating and finding fresh uses for Holbeck’s historic buildings is a crucial element of the South Bank blueprint, with construction firm Carillion winning planning approval earlier this year for 160 flats and more than 11,800 square metres of new office space as well as shops, restaurants, cafes and licensed premises at Tower Works.

Leeds Dock, too, has an illustrious history, having originally opened in the 1830s for the transportation of goods and commodities to and from Leeds city centre on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and the Aire and Calder Navigation.

It suffered steady decline through the 20th century before its reinvention in recent years as a world-class technology hub thanks to investment from Sky and site owner Allied London.

The sprawling former Tetley Brewery site in Hunslet, meanwhile, was bought from Carlsberg UK last year by Vastint, the property division of the IKEA group.

Vastint subsequently unveiled plans for around 1,000 homes plus offices, leisure facilities and a hotel at the site, which was the location for one of the country’s best known breweries from 1822 to 2011.

Civic leaders also want to hear the views of YEP readers to help fine-tune the regeneration plans for the South Bank.

A major council-led public consultation exercise on the proposals was launched over the summer.

It was originally due to draw to a close this week but was recently extended until the start of December after a “really positive” response from people across the city.

For information on how to get involved with the consultation, visit the website.