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When Victoria Gate took ownership of Templar House, it ruffled a lot of feathers, but it might well be the best thing that could have happened to the Grade II listed building.

Templar House has had more bad times than good of late, but despite its dilapidated state, it’s an important part of Leeds’ history. And though its acquisition by Hammerson, when they took over the area for the Victoria Gate development, may have raised concerns, it might well be the best thing that ever happened to the Leeds building. The question is, will the same be true of Lyon Works?

Why Templar House Is Worth Keeping

Templar House, Leodis

Well, in fact, it has to be. Templar House is a Grade II listed building that has played a pivotal role in Leeds’ history – and Hammerson’s acquisition has actually given the building a chance for a bright future.

Built 174 years ago by James Simpson, it was to be the new principal chapel of the Wesleyan Methodist Association. Its architectural features reflect its time and purpose – Methodism has had a long and distinguished role in Leeds’ history and last year marked the two hundredth anniversary of its missionary activity in the city.

Regardless of your religious views, Templar House demands respect in its story, whether that’s as a chapel, an army conscription centre, benefits office, or as the front still (just about) informs us, the British Road Services offices. And now it will get the investment it deserves, giving it new purpose.

Its previous stewards may not have been able to give the Templar House the TLC it deserved, but Hammerson certainly can. There’s no shortage of money for Victoria Gate, it’s estimated that £150 million will go into the development, and a portion of that investment will be allocated to Templar House. That can only be good news for the Leeds landmark.

However, its contention lies in how a thoroughly classic building, with its sturdy red brick façade and stone dressings, will fit in with a particularly modern development. Though it takes inspiration from history, Victoria Gate does say more for the intricacy and tools of twenty-first century design and construction.

Bringing The Past Into The Present

Front of Templar House building in Leeds

The space around Templar House has its future laid out for it. The first stage of Victoria Gate is already under way, and plans for the second are being finalised, offering up more around 420,000 square metres of retail and leisure space, as Hammerson seek to make the east side of Leeds city centre a destination in itself. So it’s easy to understand why people would be concerned about how Templar will fit into the development.

Director of Leeds Civic Trust, Dr Kevin Grady, understands these concerns. He muses that for such a development to truly work, people need to feel a connection with the past – and that a sense of continuity is vital in aiding a city to fulfil its ambitions.

“It all seems to me that for people to feel grounded and relaxed in their environment, being part of this continued history is very important,” Grady explained. “If you flatten the whole area, you’ve lost all contact in terms of gradual evolution of the place. So it takes something like Templar House, which was built in 1840 – that building is of interest as a chapel, and it’s a part of the history of the city.”

Will Lyon Works Have The Same Fate?

Lyons Building, Victoria Gate

Yet it isn’t just Templar House that has had its standing threatened by the new development. Kevin Grady is at pains to point out that there’s another building nearby that deserves just as much attention as plans for stage two of Victoria Gate are put in place.

The Lyons Works building is a structure we have covered extensively in the past, and it’s not quite as fortunate as Templar House in that it doesn’t have a listed status protecting it from the bulldozers.

Thankfully, as a result of Leeds Civic Trust, Leeds City Council and Hammerson working together, there has been a reprieve for Lyons Works, also known as Saxon Hawke House, as the area around it becomes a temporary 145 space car park to make up for the loss of the one on Union Street.

Now the futures of Lyons Works and Templar House are seemingly set to entwine as the three look for a way to incorporate them into the scheme. Grady explained how the reprieve has come about and why.

“They give character and continuity. They’re intriguing, and certainly the Lyons Works is very adaptable. Our discussions with Hammerson lately persuaded them not to demolish Lyons Works. It will be a car park but they were going to demolish the Lyons Works for that. They have withdrawn on that site and given it an 18 month reprieve, until we’ve decided what we are going to do.”

So what can they do and how can it work for the benefit of the future of the two towering buildings?

Not Just A Pretty Retail Development

Future Victoria Gate Shopping Centre in Leeds

Stage one of Victoria Gate is now in full swing, with the construction of the flagship John Lewis store, a multi-storey 800 space car park and the throwback arcade which will take the name of the larger development, but stage two is by no means set in ston stone.

While uncertainty will cause a sense of uneasiness for some, it actually provides something that could be invaluable to the legacy of Victoria Gate as a whole – time. And that’s something the folk at Hammerson are keen to take advantage of, as they take their time in making the right decisions for the city, its people and, of course, their development.

As Kevin Grady pointed out, that time allows them to think about the inclusivity and continuity that is often seen as being a vital aspect to the success of similar projects. “The point is if you want to draw people to an area, character is very important,” he carefully suggested. “So if you have Templar House and Lyons Works and you manage to integrate them into a new public scheme with more public space you will see the benefit.”

It’s in that aspect that we will see rich reward with the advent of Victoria Gate and the restoration of Templar House. While lots of folk will have a keen eye on the new retail and leisure opportunities it will no doubt offer, it’s important to note that Hammerson will now be actively looking at ways to integrate the likes of Templar House and Lyons Works into the bigger picture – and for the former at least, that will mean a significant investment.

Like Holy Trinity Church has certainly gained prominence since its integration into the shopping centre.

So what at first seemed a travesty may in fact be an opportunity for Templar House to reach its full potential, as it’s restored to its former glory, within a development that will bring even more people through its doors. We can only hope that the same is true of Lyon Works.