City’s centre of attraction looks strong thanks to faith and vision
FOR more than two decades, I have witnessed dramatic change in Leeds City Centre. At the launch of one of the city centre’s earliest residential schemes, at 32 The Calls, the then Lady Mayor famously said to me, as she cut the ribbon, “I was born in Hunslet and it’s beyond me why anyone would want to live by this smelly canal.” “Thank you so much for coming along this evening,” I said politely.
Vision is a powerful and essential force in new markets and in spite of a massive downturn in the residential market, perhaps felt most sharply in the city centre market, where buy to let purchasers have tended to lead the way, there are now around 14,000 people living in “downtown” Leeds; so successful is the market that around 99 per cent of all apartments are currently occupied. City Living 1: Mayor 0.
The huge surge in residential demand which followed the tragic events of 2001 has been a major force in driving forward new supply and with little chance of a further boom on this scale, and a likely absence of speculators, it will fall much more to the craft and guile of a new breed of developers and place makers to inspire the next generation of city living. Gone will be the huge, single phase schemes of faux terracotta and curtain walling, poorly conceived and ill-maintained public spaces and hollow promises to distant investors.
Along instead will come smaller schemes, well-conceived, designed from the inside in to provide homes which are truly liveable. Separate kitchens with utility areas, ample storage, slightly more generous floor to ceiling heights and plenty of glazing (more expensive than brick, we know, but infinitely more attractive).
Attention will turn to genuine sustainability. See what CITU are doing at Little Kelham in Sheffield (see main story below) and would love to do in Leeds, and accountants will be much more tuned in the downside than they were through the last boom, largely because there was no downside, right up until the very top of the boom curve.
Lenders will remain cautious and will be most generous in their lending on either those schemes which have best stood the test of time, or new schemes which clearly differentiate themselves from the market through design, specification, location and amenity- this is the trend which prevails in more mature city centres and this is what we expect to see in Leeds.
New buildings will be few and far between in the next few years but it seems inevitable that medium density urban housing will be a significant factor. In Leeds, this could mean high quality housing schemes in locations such as Wellington Place and on the edges of Clarence Dock, with perhaps more affordable housing springing up in the Kirkstall Road corridor and East Bank.
In order to ensure that the city centre is able to attract and hold young occupies beyond the flush of early city living and perhaps into parenthood, then we will need to ensure that education and child care is well provided for and that there are plenty of green and /or open spaces where families can play and relax.
City centre green space has been a talking point for years and there is a general acceptance that we need to do more to create either green or well landscaped areas in the heart of the city to afford both workers and residents a proper “breather”. The blueprint for a successful and balanced city centre where living and working co-exist happily and healthily is much discussed and Leeds has a real opportunity to develop and grow in its own unique way- it is largely low rise, extensively pedestrianised, eminently walkable and rich in heritage-on its outer edges, swathes of khaki land sit unused and ready for men and women of vision to deliver for the next generation.