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Kirkstall Forge: Building on the Past

· Joseph Sheerin · Discussion

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A historic part of Leeds is set to be given a new lease of life as Kirkstall Forge prepares for its much needed regeneration.

For over 800 years Kirkstall Forge has been a vital part of Leeds’ industrial heritage. Walking past the site, just off Leeds’ A65, you might not realise it, but this part of the city has been forging metal since 1147 when Cistercian monks from the nearby Abbey began a centuries old tradition.

It’s in that tradition that Kirkstall Forge is set to be given another chance to be a part of Leeds’ rich landscape. Since its closure in 2003, and clearance in 2008, it has laid desolate waiting for its chance to become part of Leeds’ overdue progress.

The warning signs for such are stark – the need to move forward needs to be in correlation with retaining a sense of pride in the past and in nature (something lost when the adjacent Hawksworth Wood was partly hacked down in the 1930s for post-war ‘homes for heroes’) is as vital as ever.

That responsibility and pressure lies with Commercial Estates Group (CEG), the site developers, who, it seems, are taking a holistic approach to building this area into a fully viable part of the city.

In its proximity to the city centre (merely six miles away) and its position as a commuter hub to the likes of Bradford (8 miles) and Manchester (42 miles), Kirkstall Forge seems like a no brainer of a development to take on, but that doesn’t mean its plans are immediately a success story.

Tangible benefits

Kirkstall Forge: Building on the Past

As always, the proof needs to lie in the pudding, though it’s fair to say the outline drawn up by CEG and site owners GMV Twelve is initially impressive. They promise a development in two parts, residential and commercial, that offers hope to those living within the new area and for those looking to move businesses, established or not, to the area.

The key features, for those looking to take up residence within the project include the construction of 1045 units that will include 460 supposedly affordable homes across the 65-acre site, from spacious apartments to three and four storey abodes, and improved transport links along the A65 that will suit it well for those looking to commute into the city.

The real selling point behind Kirkstall Forge is that it will cover each and every part of your lifestyle. There’s a concerted effort to create a community here that will only enhance the local area, with hotels, restaurants, shops, bars, a gymnasium and crèche all in the proposals, not leaving folk short of things to do as well as having the city centre nearby.

As Councillor Richard Lewis, the Executive Member for Development and the Economy, explained last year, “Kirkstall Forge is a unique and very special development that offers a rare opportunity to create a thriving new mixed-use community on a brownfield site in a lovely historical setting not far from the city centre.”

Forging Access

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What will benefit the construction, and therefore the project’s success, is the recent announcement that the Kirkstall Forge railway station, last in use in 1905, will be ready for use by August 2015 – in no small part helped by a £5 million plus contribution from CEG, facilitated through a loan from Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP), alongside the Department for Transport’s £10 million.

With routes in the pipeline to access Shipley, Bradford, Keighley and Skipton direct from the new station, a sign of the commitment from the developers to make life as straightforward as possible for potential residents and commuters.

Roger Marsh, Chair of the LEP, has expressed their delight and faith in the project, “The LEP recognises the strategic importance of the Kirkstall Forge site to Leeds and the wider City Region boosting both transport links and creating jobs. We are delighted that our support will help to secure the future of the rail halt. This will be on terms which will ensure that there is no additional cost to the tax payer.”

Within the site itself over 2,000 jobs will be created alongside around 300 during the construction process and another 300 as a knock on effect of Kirkstall Forge’s completion that could have a catalytic effect on the surrounding areas. It only takes one successful area to spread its influence to neighbouring parts that could create a new hub, away from the centre.

But how do you bring together a joint development such as this that almost takes on the form of a city within a city?

Fiscally feasible?

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The dangers can easily manifest themselves. Is there enough demand to warrant such a project a stone’s throw away from the city centre? Perhaps with the rate of growth the city has witnessed in the past decade there’s every chance Kirkstall Forge can follow suit, but only if everybody buys into it.

Should they not, Leeds is left with another underused modern eyesore, that aims to be all-inclusive, rather than exclusive towards certain aspects of residential and commercial developments. Do we need to guard against the Forge becoming Clarence Dock mark two?

CEG’s Charles Johnson is fairly sure the Kirkstall Forge development is only going to boost the city, “We are very excited about the prospect of starting the Kirkstall Forge project. The loan provisions we have agreed with the LEP and Leeds City Council will ensure the delivery of the rail station and the wider scheme, which will ultimately deliver a sustainable mixture of new homes, jobs, leisure and community facilities on this major brownfield site.”

Another point of contention is that financial commitment to the aforementioned transport infrastructure is essential for the project to be completed. It’s believed that around £10 million will be contributed by Leeds City Council. This will help towards the implementation of improved access to the area from the A65, work on surrounding footpaths, cycleways and canal toe-paths, as well as a road and pedestrian bridge over the River Aire. Vital amenities such as primary and secondary education and affordable housing also sit within its remit.

Whilst the outcomes are positive, the money itself will be borrowed by Leeds City Council and the expenditure on the highways infrastructure to be repaid back by GMV in a deal to protect against Council’s financing. With the cost, and potential negative impact on traffic and the environment as a result of such work, the contiguous, and admittedly short term affects could be problematic for the city.

Despite these potentially minor setbacks however, the fact that Leeds is steaming forward with the largest mixed use development in the city at a time still when austerity rules, shows how much faith there is in the area that Leeds can rise above all of that nonsense and create for itself another area that is setting Leeds up for a prosperous period in its history – quite apt, considering it’s on the site of its last one.