News that one of the city’s oldest and historically most important buildings is to be bought by the council and renovated has been welcomed by the Leeds Civic Trust.
The Yorkshire Evening Post broke the news yesterday that the First White Cloth Hall is to be subject to a compulsory purchase order.
Its current owners, City Fusion Ltd, will be forced to sell the building to the council, who will then renovate it as part of a wider regeneration scheme for the whole of Kirkgate.
Dr Kevin Grady, director of Leeds Civic Trust told Times Past, it was a major step forward.
“I have a file on this which is about one foot thick and that contains notes on all of the discussions which have been going on over this site over the last 20 years.
“Over the last 10 years the council has been trying to secure a long term lease on the site and during that time, par of the west wing of the building has collapsed.”
The First White Cloth Hall is important because it helped cement the city’s reputation as a place to do business. It was from here that the merchant class drew much of their custom and it helped bolster the reputation of the city.
Under plans unveiled by the council, the building will now be bought and renovated.
In recent years, some £1m has been pledged to help with the renovation of the building, with £500,000 coming from the National Lottery, £250,000 from the council and a further £250,000 from English Heritage. Additionally, the council has indicated it is prepared to borrow around £1.7m to assist in the scheme.
Dr Grady continued: “There is money available to begin with the redevelopment and this is a major step forward for the site and Kirkgate in general. The site lends itself to some kind of independent business or arts-based business but I think part of the building will have to have some sort of commercial use, because the council will need to make some money from it.”
Dr Grady said the latest move by the council to wrestle the building out of the hands of its current owners came after they lost patience.
It is understood that over the last three years, the council has been attempting to negotiate a long-term lease on the site, a move it is thought which was rejected. They have also attempted to buy the site outright, again to no avail.
It remains unclear what the market value of the Grade II listed site is, as the building is seriously dilapidated and in need of major restoration, meaning its actual value could be zero.
Historically, cloth halls were used by traders to buy and sell undyed cloth but Leeds was not the first to have a covered hall. Indeed, it was Wakefield’s decision to build a covered hall in 1710 which prompted calls for one in Leeds, which came a year later in 1711.
According to Leeds historian Ralph Thoresby, the First White Cloth Hall was “a stately hall built on pillars on arches in the form of an exchange, with a quadrangular court within”. It also provided store rooms for the merchants who used it.
It is now hoped that, once the building has been bought, it will form the centrepiece of a regeneration scheme which will bring new customers into the Kirkgate area.
Kirkgate is thought to be the oldest street in Leeds and Lower Kirkgate Townscape Heritage Initiative could see it once again become one of its most important.