Lately, we’ve heard a lot of debate about Victoria Gate, and whether it should even be a goer, given that we’ve got a fair few empty units in the city centre, but since when has that been a reason for the city to stand still?
If you’re a regular, you’ll know we’ve got an eye on the city’s wasted space. We’d like to see it in use as much as the next person, but not for one minute do we think that those empty units should stand in the way of a development like Victoria Gate.
Can you really blame the big bad developers?
The fact is, Hammerson, and their Victoria Gate development, are bringing a lot to the party. John Lewis is just the tip of the iceberg as they’ll be attracting a whole new crowd of stores and restaurants into Leeds, in just the same way that Trinity did – and that’s nothing but good for the city.
And yes, you might say that Trinity Leeds is the cause of those empty units, that it pulled brands into its new shopping heartland, and left the former high street unoccupied.
But many of those units have now been taken up, filling our city centre with yet more shops and helping us to creep up the list of top shopping destinations outside of London – and that’s the kind of thing that gets the attention of even bigger brands, but they can’t come here if we don’t have the space.
But we do have the space, right?
Wrong. Do you think those big brands, the luxurious designer ones, are going to set up just anywhere? The Victoria Quarter brings them all together, giving them a dedicated place, guaranteed to bring in the big spenders – and that’s exactly what Victoria Gate will do too.
Once the the build is complete, Victoria Gate is going to be prime real estate. Stores that until now have only resided in London will turn their eyes to the North and for once, they’ll be looking at Leeds. Not Liverpool or Manchester, Leeds. We need this development.
What about the empty units?
Haven’t you noticed? They’re being filled. Over the last six weeks, we’ve seen restaurants opening all over Leeds, taking up those empty units and turning them into something that will benefit the city. Okay, so it may not be their original purpose, but it’s still a really positive move.
And in other areas of the city, we’ve seen massive regeneration. The Grand Arcade has blossomed, attracting independent retailers and eateries, not to mention a host of locals and tourists. And Leeds Corn Exchange, which has long been hailed as an independent mecca, has seen new stores and salons open up in their once empty units.
Just as luxury brands need a place to hang their hat, so too do the smaller ventures. And even though no one has claimed those empty units yet, it doesn’t mean that they won’t. This is untapped potential – and we should be excited about exactly what it could bring, encouraging the bold and the brave to start something new, or established outlets to see what Leeds has to offer.
What you should be worrying about…
Some of those empty units are new. Peter Maturi, Upstaged, Pickles and Potter, Culture Vulture (which we hope will pop up somewhere new) – they were once Leeds institutions and to see the city without them is sad indeed.
These are businesses that could never afford to take up residence in the new Victoria Gate development, or even Trinity Leeds, but the city is a less colourful place without them. And while it’s easy to blame our sparkly new shopping centre for their closure, most of the independents would agree that Trinity has actually had a positive effect on their business.
So what we should be ranting about, isn’t whether Hammerson’s multi-million pound development should go ahead, it’s what can be done to help the independents to thrive.
Whose responsibility is it to keep these ventures alive? It doesn’t just live with the owners, who have a hard task ahead of them, or even the shoppers. We need to consider whether small businesses get the help, support and funding that they need – and if they don’t, how can we change that?
We have the answer is, but we do know that Victoria Gate will bring hundreds of thousands of shoppers into the city, and if we can get just a fraction of them to visit the independents while they’re here, it’s going to do much more good than harm.