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Is Leeds Still a Compact City?

· Ali Turner · Discussion

Is Leeds Still A Compact City? - Leeds Wheel Skyline Image_web

The small, compact nature of Leeds has always been one of its greatest qualities. But with so much development, can it still claim to be small?

In many ways, it’s easy to get to know Leeds. You can walk from one side of the city centre to the other in less than thirty minutes. And whichever route you take, you’ll pass a host of unique finds, whether it’s a vegetarian cafe or a basement bar. But has the city’s growth spurt changed the convenient compactness of the city centre, or does Leeds remain small, but perfectly formed?

The Addition of Trinity Leeds

Is Leeds Still A Compact City - Trinity Leeds-web

In 2013, we saw years of hard work come to fruition when Trinity Leeds finally opened its doors. The new shopping centre had been in the pipeline for quite some time, and the area on which it now stands was left untouched and unloved for longer than most of us care to remember.

But while you may lament those lost years, you have to applaud their accomplishments, because Land Securities pulled something off that no one would have thought possible – they built a three storey shopping centre without expanding the city centre at all.

You may remember what used to frequent the spot where Trinity Leeds now stands. The Trinity & Burton Arcade took up one measly floor, in comparison to Trinity’s three – and by the time it closed, was looking rather run down. For most of us, it was a wasted space in need of renovation, but for Land Securities it was an opportunity to create space where none existed before.

Though it may have been a long time coming, Trinity Leeds opened up the space, creating a one million square foot shopping centre with over 100 stores, restaurants and bars. It has already attracted 46 new brands into the city, and has even made space for a few local independents, including Cielo Blanco and Roxy Ballroom, both of which have quickly become favourites.

And they did all this without expanding the city centre outwards. Admittedly, a few of the units were extended, but most of the space was created above street level. If anything, they made the city centre more compact, especially at first, as stores closed in favour of a more central position within Trinity Leeds. Now, those abandoned stores have been filled, but it’s still the central point for shoppers – and in many ways, our city is still as compact as ever.

First Direct Arena

First Direct Arena, Is Leeds Still a Compact City?

At first, the new arena was planned for a location outside the city centre. Two locations were put forward, the first was near Elland Road stadium and the second was on Sweet Street in Holbeck. Both would have been a trek from the city centre, effectively putting paid to the idea that you can walk everywhere in the city.

Luckily for us, both those locations were ultimately ruled out in favour of a more central position on Claypit Lane. This new spot, on the edge of the Northern Quarter, is within easy reach of the train station, as well as various car parks, which will make drawing in the crowds that little bit easier. It has, to a certain extent, tested the bounds of the city centre, but not by much.

The new arena sits just at the back of the Merrion Centre, which has been serving the city since 1964. It’s opening has not only helped to cement the shopping centre’s position in the city, but has also encouraged regeneration in areas of the city that have become run down over the years. We’ve seen a flurry of bar openings in Northern Quarter, with The Social, Belgrave and It Bar all settling in within easy reach of the arena, and utilising areas of the city that are already home to some of the best bars in town.

If other cities are anything to go by, arenas are often surrounded by a plethora of eateries, catering for the pre-gig crowds. But in Leeds, we saw this demand catered for by The Light, a pre-existing shopping centre that changed its offering dramatically, moving from retail to leisure, to cater for the incoming crowds. This focus on redevelopment has helped Leeds to maintain its compact feel, and even the addition of a new £32 million Hilton Hotel on Portland Crescent won’t extend the city’s boundaries by much.

Victoria Gate

Victoria Gate, Is Leeds Still a Compact City?

The next addition to the city will be Victoria Gate, a new shopping centre that will reinvigorate an area of town that’s been left to its own devices for altogether too long. The plot on which Victoria Gate will be built, which sits beside Kirkgate Market, was identified as a suitable area of development by Leeds City Council in its Unitary Development Plan (UDP) back in 2000 – and years later, when the plan had been firmed up, Hammerson was chosen to develop it.

But will this new addition to the city centre make the city less compact? Not if all goes to plan. Robin Dobson, Hammerson’s Director of Retail Development, told us that the centre has been designed to reconnect the city centre, creating a bridge between the city’s popular retail haunts and the less visited areas of the city.

“We envisage that Victoria Gate will open up Leeds city centre and provide a more natural connection to Quarry Hill and the existing retail areas of Briggate and Victoria Quarter.” He told us, “This will not only provide a more diverse retail offer but will encourage shoppers, tourists and the people of Leeds to explore this area of the city.”

Victoria Gate, Is Leeds Still a Compact City?

It’s an area that’s in dire need of development. The car park that once lived there drew people to the area, but it doesn’t take long to drop off a car, and there’s was little else there to draw in the crowds. But the space has massive potential, and that’s something that’s set to be realised by the Victoria Gate development.

It’s a two stage process, the first of which will see Victoria Gate erected opposite the Victoria Quarter, with the new John Lewis Store behind it and a multi-storey car park with space for up to 800 cars. Together, these three elements will span the entirety of Eastgate, making use of a space that’s largely unoccupied. Stage two is even more ambitious, taking over the opposite side of Eastgate and stretching out to the inner ring road.

What’s important here, is that Hammerson are repurposing the space, just like Land Securities did with Trinity Leeds. They’re not moving the limits of the city centre, as such, but rather, expanding the city upwards and making sure every inch of space is utilised. And by doing so, they’re making opening up the city. Once in place, hidden treasures like Kendells and Colours May Vary, won’t feel so far away.

It’s just as Dobson says, “Victoria Gate will undoubtedly improve the experience of the Eastgate area and will encourage visitors and residents to spend more time in this part of the city, benefiting existing businesses and neighbouring areas.”

What does all this mean?

Yes, the city centre is growing. It has to. But if these three developments are anything to go by, Leeds is growing intelligently, utilising space and making the most of every inch. And by doing so, it has maintained its ‘compact’ nature, at least for now.

Feature image kindly provided by Ollievision.