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5 Things Other Cities Have That Leeds Needs

· James Tweddle · Discussion

How can Leeds compete against the UK’s most prominent cities?

South Bank Leeds

Over the past decade, Leeds has cemented its status as one of the North’s most popular cities. But how can we make it number one?

Leeds is one of the finest cities in the North, but it’s time to face facts. There are areas where it lags behind its biggest city rivals. We all want Leeds to be the best, so we need to learn from the best. From transport to tourism, what do other top UK cities have that Leeds needs? We’ve narrowed it down to 5 crucial elements…

A major tourist attraction

Hepworth, Yorkshire

Credit: Hufton and Crow

London, Edinburgh, Manchester, Newcastle. What do all these cities have in common? Recognisable and iconic tourist attractions. From the London Eye and the Museum of Scotland to the Angel of the North and the National Football Museum, they stand as shining beacons, drawing tourists into the city in droves.

In its defence, Leeds has the Royal Armouries and the Henry Moore Institute – both sizeable attractions in their own right – but they pale in comparison to their equivalents in other major cities, both in visitor numbers and reputation. To really start putting itself further on the map, Leeds needs a major tourist attraction that the city can get behind.

We don’t even have to look far for proof either. Wakefield invested grant money from Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund into their cultural attractions, in particular The Hepworth – only opened in 2011 – and Yorkshire Sculpture Park. With half a million visitors in the first year, The Hepworth contributed an estimated £10 million to the local economy, while recent analysis has calculated the YSP’s annual economic contribution at £5 million. For Leeds to see similar growth, particularly with further multi-million pound accommodation work ongoing in Yorkshire Sculpture Park, the investment in major tourist attractions could make a huge impact to the city.

A reliable inner-city transport system

Leeds Train Station

Say a major tourist attraction eventually gets built, the question now becomes – how on earth do people get there? As Chris Heard, Northern Chairman of KPMG put it, ‘Leeds must be one of the most sizeable economic hubs without a city transport network.’ If we genuinely want to prove ourselves capable in the eyes of the world and attract more city-wide business opportunities, Leeds has to get its act together with a reliable integrated transport system.

We all remember the travesty that was Leeds Council’s handling of the NGT trolleybus implementation, and with the remainder of the £173.5 million budget funnelled into three new rail stations and a raft of bus improvements – we’re still no closer to getting the integrated transport system we’ve all been waiting for. So why not take inspiration from other cities’ success stories?

Liverpool’s Merseytravel scheme, for instance, covers the whole of the Liverpool City Region with a combination of light rail and buses, while Manchester’s tram network is fast, cheap and shockingly easy to use. To attract as many tourists and new businesses as Leeds deserves, there simply has to be a better way for people to get around.

A proper marathon

Over 40,000 people take part in the London Marathon every year, with a million spectators lining the streets to cheer the athletes on. Crucially, the most recent research shows the race raises around £110 million in economic activity for the capital. We can’t be alone in wanting something similar for Leeds.

Because of London’s size and sheer variety of cultural events, perhaps a better example is the Brighton Marathon. When it was held for the first time, a commissioned study found that the event alone brought in an extra £2.6 million to the city – split between accommodation, food & drink, shopping, transport and entertainment.

Similarly, in the last six years, the Manchester Marathon has pumped £20 million back into Greater Manchester and raised £7 million for charity. So when we say that Leeds needs a proper marathon, that’s why. Not only will it mark a local economic boom, but also raise awareness of Leeds as a whole across the UK.

A world-class conference centre

New Dock, Leeds

Any city that wants to set out its stall as one of the best in the country knows that business, both local and national, is its lifeblood. That means providing conference and meeting facilities that are up to scratch, and to be brutally honest, we are failing in that regard.

If you’re a Leeds business looking for a place to hold a conference, your choices are severely limited. Admittedly, Royal Armouries have put a lot of effort into improving their facilities – New Dock Hall caters for everyone from small groups to 1,500 guest events in 11 spaces.

Yet when you compare it to Manchester Central convention centre, for instance, which can accommodate anything between 40 and 10,000 guests across 30 rooms – you can immediately see just how far behind Leeds is. To really hold our own against the big boys, it’s time to invest in purpose–built conference accommodation, and fast.

A fully-integrated creative and digital hub

South Bank Leeds

© West 8 – Simco Wavedeck at Toronto Central Waterfront

EY’s latest report shows that Manchester is now Britain’s strongest performing city, with predicted economic growth of 2.4% every year until 2020. This is the endgame for Leeds. But if we want to surpass Manchester and become the biggest city in the North, only a creative hub equal to the standard of Media City will do. Built on derelict docklands in Salford Quays, the city’s outskirts are now home to one of the most vibrant digital developments in the country.

Over 7,000 people now work, live or study at Media City – a number set to double over the next 8-10 years. That’s not to mention the 60,000 people already working in the creative and digital industries throughout Greater Manchester. How does Leeds begin to compete?

Creating a space almost three times the size of Media City with the potential to generate 35,000 new jobs and 4,000 new homes is an extremely good start. The new South Bank Leeds project will combine new developments like CEG Southbank and Vastint’s plans for the old Tetley Brewery site with big regeneration projects like Temple Works and Hunslet Mill to double the size of the city centre. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create Leeds’ answer to Media City, one that will give our thriving digital sector room to grow and truly set us apart as the city to beat in the North.

Cover image credit: Tom Joy