THIS is not the first time that the cost of Leeds Town Hall has spiralled out of control – this imposing building, an enduring symbol of civic pride, was beset by money problems when constructed in the 1850s.
The backdrop to Winston Churchill’s galvanising speech to the people of Leeds in 1942 and, more recently, the venue for the banquet to launch the Tour de France Grand Départ, it is more likely to play host to music concerts today than great political gatherings – the city council’s seat of power is now in the nearby Leeds Civic Hall.
Yet this Victorian building, like so many civic halls, is now proving to be a drain on the public purse as time catches up with maintenance work. In the week when Leeds councillors are due to implement a four per cent council tax increase, the latest improvements could now cost £10m – three times more than the original estimate.
Even if the council obtains a lottery grant, it is still a significant sum. And given that this juxtaposition raises perennial questions about whether councillors should be prioritising services like social care, or a property portfolio dating back to Victorian times, it is a reminder about the need for local authorities to move with the times when it comes to raising the finance to pay for the upkeep of such buildings.
Would it be sacrilege if the building was sold to a developer on the proviso that the outer facade, clock tower and interior features were preserved for time immemorial? Or would such a move show that Leeds is a city of cultural philistines at a time when it is vying to be the European Capital of Culture in 2023? Let the debate begin.