It’s fair to say we’re smitten with Leeds, but that doesn’t mean we’re oblivious to its faults…
Much as we love Leeds, it still has a way to go before it can be seen as one of the best cities in the UK. And the things it has to achieve aren’t easy wins, they’re going to take a lot of work and a lot of planning. So just what does Leeds need to pull off to challenge the country’s finest cities and are we even on track?
Get A Better Transport System
We’re not talking about the one way system (which let’s face it, fries the brain of any newcomer), we’re talking public transport. The trolleybus is controversial to say the least, taking out sections of the city that folk would rather keep, with little proof that it will actually lower congestion.
Alternatives like increased bus routes, fall equally short. But if this city of ours is to grow, it needs a strong, reliable transport system that makes it as accessible as the best of them.
Make Some Big Saves
Right now, the Civic Trust’s ‘Heritage At Risk’ list is longer than it should be. It includes some of the city’s finest historic gems, like First White Cloth Hall and Leeds Bridge.
The last 12 months have taught us that even when the Civic Trust is just being cautious, their concerns are often well founded. After all, The Majestic remained on the list, even after it was restored by Rushbond, and the empty unit was the victim of arson last year. So we need to get more of those buildings off the list.
Bag A Premier League Football Team
Come on, we’re a big city, we deserve a Premier League football team. In Manchester, they’ve got two – and right now, we look like we’re more likely to go down than up. But that’s got to change.
After years of controversial chairman, underperforming managers and a subpar team, it’s time for Leeds United to find consistency and realise it’s one of the country’s big clubs. That starts with sorting out the problems with the owner Cellino, before focusing on investing in a team that could once again put Leeds on a world scale. We’ve all waited long enough.
Be the Second Best Shopping City in the UK
In 2014, Leeds was named as one of the top 3 shopping cities outside of London by Javelin Group’s Venuescore 2014-2015 – and the addition of Trinity Leeds played no small part in that accomplishment.
Now we have another shopping centre on the way, one that will attract even more big brands into the city, including a highly coveted John Lewis. And if we can couple that with a strong independent offering, creating affordable space for small start ups and seeing those spaces (including Leeds Corn Exchange and the arcades) fulfill their potential, there’s every chance that we can move even further up the list, knocking Manchester down a peg, and hopefully, Glasgow too.
See the Revival of Kirkgate Market
It’s the biggest indoor market in Europe and is as much of a landmark as it is a shopping destination, but it’s time for Kirkgate Market to move into the twenty-first century.
It’s not as simple as applying a lick of paint, the market needs to become a modern shopping destination, but one that honours its past. They need to simultaneously protect traders and attract new ones, maintain traditions and promote innovation – it’s not going to be easy to strike the right balance.
Be European Capital of Culture
It’s just an idea at the moment, a consideration, but within 10 years, we could be European Capital of Culture – and that’s an accolade Leeds doesn’t just deserve, but needs.
You see, this isn’t just a title. A European Capital of Culture bid is a catalyst for change, driving investment and development, pushing the city to be the best it can be. So don’t be deceived by the name, this isn’t just about culture and the changes it brings will stay long after the title has moved on.
Get An Airport Worthy of a Major City
Leeds Bradford International Airport is a good start, but it’s going to have to up its game if the city is to achieve its business and tourism goals.
We need more flights from more airlines to more destinations. And that’s just the beginning, because for the airport to really take off, it needs to be more accessible – which brings us back to the city’s transport links. Be it train, tram or trolleybus, the route to the airport is high on the list of priorities.
Promote Sustained Growth
Over the last five years, Leeds has grown while other major cities have stood still and we need to maintain that growth by nurturing businesses and the people who make them what they are.
That means attracting and facilitating developers, giving us additional office space to accommodate new businesses, with accessible rents that won’t scare them off. But it also means ensuring the city has access to a skilled workforce, by supporting those looking to improve their skills and making the city commutable with, yes, we’ll say it again, improved transport links.
Pull off the Regeneration of Holbeck
Holbeck Urban Village kicked off the regeneration in the Leeds suburb, bringing businesses and residents into what’s now seen as one of the most up and coming areas of Leeds.
This year saw work begin the refurbishment of 1245 council homes, with another 388 to be built – but that’s just the beginning. The new entrance to Leeds Train Station will make it even easier to reach Holbeck, while developments like City One and One Leeds, as well as the restoration of Temple Works, look set to attract businesses and investment to the area. And let’s not forget the Ruth Gorse Academy, which is set to move into its own custom built school, making Holbeck an even more more attractive proposition for young families.
Stay at the Top of Our Game
Everyone knows Leeds is the UK’s biggest financial and business services centre outside of London, but it’s also a hub for creativity. The growth of this sector, which includes everything from cultural enterprises to digital agencies, has outpaced our fellow core cities – and that’s a trend we need to continue.
Looking to the future, we’d like to see Leeds establish itself as a retail and tourism destination, but we also need to see our core sectors push forward with a continued focus on growth and innovation. There’s a lot of competition out there, with Manchester already challenging our legal prominence, so this isn’t the time to drop the ball.
Image of Elland Road copyright Chris Robertshaw. Licensed for commercial re-use under Creative Commons. Image of Leeds Town Hall and Art Gallery courtesy of Nicky Rowbottom. Numiko image courtesy of Ollievision.