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Trinity Leeds: What a Difference a Year Makes

· Joseph Sheerin · Discussion

Trinity Leeds: What a Difference a Year Makes

It’s been one year since Trinity Leeds became a reality – but just what affect has it had on the city.

For much of the past decade, Trinity Leeds was a pipedream. A set of plans never realised, vacant space festering in Leeds city centre with seemingly little progress after the green lights had been issued.

Now Trinity Leeds wasn’t the only thing to be affected by the economic crisis that enveloped the developed Western economies between 2007 and 2012, but for Leeds, it was significantly a sign that it wasn’t going to happen overnight, and a murky, grey cloud grew over the boarded up spaces where Leeds Shopping Plaza, Burton and Trinity Arcades once stood.

Thankfully, once the economic constraints were loosened a little, it seemed Leeds was the target for the little spending that could take place across the country. The plans that were afoot for Trinity Leeds and for the new Trinity Leeds were milestones for the city in a period that saw every other city across the land tighten its belt and fall back to austerity.

This isn’t to say Leeds hasn’t been hit by the tight fisted fiscal policies; instead, it’s more of a point that it has sensibly found a way of augmenting progress in the city at a time when it needs it most.

By doing so, the reputation of Leeds as a growing and forward thinking city has improved and the accolades have come, helping Yorkshire to become the third best destination to visit in 2014 according to Lonely Planet – “fashion-thirsty Leeds has cut the ribbon on an ambitious retail development at a time when malls elsewhere in the UK are stalling” – and reaching the Top 5 shopping destinations in the land.

Just how has it helped?

Trinity Leeds: What a Difference a Year Makes

Well with any big project such as this the first thing people want to know is jobs. How many there are, how long they will last, what type of work and who with. And they’re all very fair questions.

Thankfully, twelve months on since Trinity Leeds’ grand opening there has been plenty of work to be seized. There were 622 construction jobs over nearly a three year period with nearly 500 more coming as a direct result of the development and over half of which came from within a Leeds or Yorkshire postcode. Since, there have been around 3500 jobs made available within the open shopping centre itself, and with over 95% of the space let, that shows that there has been, currently is and continues to be a chance for jobs in Trinity Leeds.

Yet, for places to keep coming to Leeds and choosing it as their next destination, Trinity Leeds not only needs to have an effect within its boundaries but also outside. In the immediate aftermath of its opening, particularly when retailers such as River Island, Urban Outfitters and Next relocated into seemingly more productive surroundings, the ‘To Let’ signs were quickly up and about in parts of the city nobody wants to see them.

However, in the 12 months that have followed since, it hasn’t stopped other parts of town from replenishing closing stores with new ones as despite 31 stores closing (until October 2013) 49 new stores opened half of which were independents. Paul Smith, Marketing Manager at Trinity Leeds says this is something that the shopping centre is conscientious of and is what they want to see happening, “we’re happy to see the net increase. It would appear we have provided a little bit of a catalyst for the city and other retailers are opening and enjoying a share of wealth within the city.”

Increased footfall

Trinity Leeds: What a Difference a Year Makes

The important thing with a project such as Trinity Leeds was to see it become another reason to visit, a catalyst for increased tourism that will help the city continue to develop and overtake rival neighbouring cities.

Back at the start of 2014 Tom Riordan, CEO of Leeds City Council, announced how Trinity Leeds and First Direct Arena had driven around 2 million extra people through the city.

With 5.7 million people in the Leeds city region and further afield for Trinity Leeds to attract though, there are more people to convince, “we’ve still got to establish ourselves within the city” says Smith. “Our catchment is about 5.7 million people, we have had a good year, but there’s still an awful lot of people who haven’t visited us or even Leeds. So the next job is to kind of push out into that broader catchment and get people visiting the city.” Retail and food and drink enterprise is all well and good, and of course, in the big picture is vital to the success of Trinity Leeds, yet it’s the more leftfield ideas that allow for the centre to become an intrinsic part of Leeds life.

The sprinkling of cultural goodness Leeds has on offer has certainly cropped up in the past year with over half a million pounds being invested. Antonia Stowe’s art facilitation has lead to the two statues of ‘Briggate Minerva’ and ‘Equus Altus’ by renowned sculptor Andy Scott becoming something of an iconic landmark, yet this was merely the start of Trinity’s artistic desires.

Through community projects such as the Graffiti Wall back in January and the year long Trinity Leeds Art Programme which gives up to six up and coming local talents the chance to have their work on display within the Leeds shopping centre for twelve months, they are building a reputation for having an outward awareness of the things that matter to the city.

As Smith confirms, “It’s incredibly important, yet difficult to measure. We’ve invested £500 million in the first instance bringing things like Andy Scott’s sculpture work. We endeavour to continue with that kind of stuff. We’ve launched the Trinity Leeds Art Programme and we always have an open door to the arts organisations in the city. It’s free for them to come and do any performances they want. They’re more than welcome here. As far as we see it, it’s a public space.”

What does the future hold?

Trinity Leeds: What a Difference a Year Makes

The future though is an interesting prospect for Trinity Leeds. With the slow dawning of Victoria Gate on the horizon it will soon have a retailing competitor, even if neither see it that way publicly or whatever. The impact Trinity Leeds has had in the past twelve months has been vital for the continued progression of Leeds as a major city. For the shopping centre however, it is increasingly important it doesn’t lose focus on continuing providing jobs, integrating the wider community and showing itself as a worthy part of the Leeds landscape.

Its pedestal is now a two sided attraction. For it has built itself up to be at the core of the reasons why people pick Leeds over other places, yet its task to maintain that is a daunting one even if not entirely unenviable.

With a huge year on the horizon for Leeds as a whole with Le Grand Départ just a few months away, Smith and Trinity Leeds are under no illusions as to the challenges facing them and the city as a whole in the coming months, “these things are always achievable – they don’t happen overnight but they are achievable” Smith explains.

“The great thing that the city has got as a whole is that Leeds will be in the shop window when The Tour comes to town, with something like around 5 million people visiting. Everybody in the city should be ready and prepared to show what Leeds has got. We’re just the same. When all those visitors are here we want to get them into the city and ensure they have an enjoyable experience”

Hear, hear. For the city as a whole, it’s important that we keep taking advantage of these things when they come along. Leeds stands alone in the progression it has experienced in this country in the past 5 years, and it is vital nobody loses sight of what continuing that progress will lead to. Trinity Leeds, it seems is just the beginning…