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5 Things Other Cities Have That Leeds Needs

· Ali Turner · Discussion

Leeds is a great city, but it could be better – a lot better.

South Bank Leeds

Leeds has come forward in leaps and bounds over the last 10 years, but if we want to be recognised as the best city in the North, we still have a long way to go…

You know we love Leeds, some might say we’re obsessed with it, but we’re not blind to its faults. In fact, we’re all too aware of them, because only by recognising and rectifying the city’s flaws can we make it better. And boy do we want to make it better – we want it to be the best city in the North, the envy of our friends across the Pennines and a serious contender for the UK’s (and indeed the world’s) city breakers. So where do we start? Here are 5 things we need, that other UK cities already have.

A clear, easy to navigate city centre

Signage

How do you get where you want to go? You’ll definitely ask that question if it’s your first time on the inner ring road, but you shouldn’t have to ask it when you’re on foot, at least not when you’re heading to one of the city’s biggest attractions. Connectivity is really important – and Liverpool do it much better than us. Their public realm is designed to help you find your way around, with clear signage and routes to key attractions.

If only we could say the same for Leeds. City Square is the equivalent of a complex roundabout, so even if you’ve got a map (and we all do on our phones these days) you’re still going to have to take a minute to get your bearings. We need to cut out that extra step, tying our attractions together by giving people the right information at the right time, with bold signage and meticulous planning.

A world-class waterfront

South Bank Leeds

Hammarby Sjöstad © Erik Lefvander, Fabege

The Thames instantly springs to mind, but it’s not just the Capital that’s turned its waterfront into an attraction. In Liverpool, they’ve extended the city to include the river with developments like Albert Dock and Liverpool One helping to integrate the Merseyside into residents everyday lives by giving them a reason to visit. Bristol have done it too, turning the waterfront into a vibrant cultural hub, with the Arnolfini art gallery attracting over 500,000 people a year.

That’s what Leeds needs to aspire to, and the good news is, we’re not the only people that think so, because the latest vision for the South Bank’s regeneration has the waterfront at its heart. The plan is to extend the city centre over the river, with new public spaces, parks and even bridges making it more attractive and accessible. There will also be significant investment in the area, bringing everything from businesses to bars, restaurants and attractions to the area.

A modern, integrated transport system

Crossrail London

Credit: Crossrail Ltd

For the love of God, can we not get our act together. Look at London – their transport system isn’t perfect, it’s a squeeze, but considering that there are in excess of 16 million journeys every day, they’re doing alright. And you have to admit, the new Crossrail route has come together at a rapid pace – the budget was signed off in 2010 and the first train is due to run in May 2018. But they weren’t entirely dependent on the government to fund the project – in fact, 60% of the project’s funding comes directly from Londoners and London businesses. Elsewhere, Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield all have mass transit systems and soon Birmingham will too.

In comparison, Leeds can’t get its transport plans off the ground. Our £270 million budget is now destined to improve bus services and create three new rail stations, including a highly coveted airport station that isn’t actually at the airport and will still require you to get a bus. Sigh. It’s fair to say, we’re not overwhelmed by the plans, nor do we have much confidence in them – the trolleybus was such an unmitigated disaster that it’s hard to believe it went as far as it did. But we do need change, and we need it fast, because this city of ours isn’t going anywhere without a modern, integrated transport system.

A reputation as a cultural hub

Henry Moore Institute

Gego Exhibition

Leeds is blessed with an incredibly diverse culture scene, with everything from independent galleries and theatres to internationally renowned ballet and opera companies – but if it’s going to become a major European city (that’s right, we just upped the stakes), then we need more cultural clout. Hopefully, Leeds’ European Capital of Culture bid, which officially launches on Thursday 23rd February 2017, will give us that.

If Liverpool is anything to go by, it could help to raise our profile and attract investment, but more importantly, it will reinvigorate the city’s culture sector. Between 2006 and 2008, they saw a 50% rise in visitor figures to Merseyside’s seven largest attractions, and many of the cultural events launched as part of their ECoC activity are still going today. If we can replicate this, we’ll be in a great position, but perhaps we can tie this in with the city’s plans for the South Bank, by opening a world class cultural institution to sit alongside the Henry Moore Institute, and rival the likes of Tate Liverpool, The Baltic, Yorkshire Sculpture Park and The Hepworth, which opened as recently as 2011. It’s ambitious, but that’s exactly what Leeds needs.

A train station worthy of a major city

Leeds Train Station HS2

This time we’re looking at our friends over in Birmingham for inspiration, specifically their New Street Station, which reopened on 20th September 2015 after a five year redevelopment project. The result is both practical and architecturally impressive, giving you a fantastic first impression of Birmingham, with instant access to the new John Lewis and an easy route out into city.

Then there’s Leeds Train Station. Yes, it has a brand new entrance and it’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough. We’re talking about the third busiest station outside of London here. 100,000 people pass through it every day and that number is set to sky rocket over the next 10 years. Luckily, we have a plan, and it involves integrating the new HS2 station into the existing one, to create a super-station. The council have already appointed The Atkins Consortium to design it, and they did a bang-up job on the award-winning revamp of King’s Cross Station in London, so we’re in good hands.

Cover credit: © West 8 – Simco Wavedeck at Toronto Central Waterfront