And I suppose they have a point. ‘City Centre South’, as it’s known, is the name given to the area between the River Aire and the M621 motorway (Hunslet and the ‘South Bank’ to most people) and it’s the hottest area for regeneration in the city. Parts of it are essentially a neglected no man’s land – although there are ambitious plans for its future.
A local group, called the Leeds Sustainable Development Group (LSDG), is already working with The Gorse Academies Trust on plans for a city-centre academy which it hopes will be a catalyst for the transformation of the area.
The group argues that the extensive vacant and underused sites in this area could accommodate 12,000 residential units – including 8,000 family homes and help alleviate some of the pressure for new housing Leeds and the associated threat to the green belt. there are also plans for a city centre park, and improved transport infrastructure such as cycle routes, NGT Leeds Trolleybus, High Speed rail 2 etc.
LSDG – a ‘bottom up’ voluntary group made up of entrepreneurs, residents, academics and professionals – has a vision for a new city centre community to the south of the river and claims the so-called ‘deprived’ areas of Holbeck, Beeston Hill and Hunslet can be more effectively linked to the city centre.
The Stray would provide a safe, direct route across the city for pedestrians and cyclists all the way south from Leeds Bridge to Leeds City College’s new Printworks campus. The project would see the re-opening of a route straight through the former Tetley Brewery site, which walkers and cyclists currently have to circumnavigate. The Stray will link with proposed pedestrian and cycle routes to Holbeck and Beeston.
Mr Lumb told South Leeds Life:
“The project will re-establish this forgotten part of Hunslet Road and provide a green link, and start to reconnect the city centre and the South Bank with Hunslet. It will also provide high-quality public realm, pocket parks and the like.”
Mr Lumb said the stray could include a small open air arena for informal and formal events, the ‘greening’ of Bridge End and Meadow Lane, heritage and arts trails, which would act as a catalyst or the development of the surrounding ‘brownfield’ land. The project is being carried out in partnership with Sustrans.
Mr Lumb said that Leeds as a city was essentially ‘at a crossroads’, and should not pass on the opportunity to ‘lead the market, rather than simply follow it’. He added:
“This is the opportunity to grasp something different and become Leeds’ next transformational idea. We have the opportunity to shift the balance to the south of the river and so the development that takes place is of benefit to local people and not just to developers.”
According to Mr Lumb, current residents of the city centre don’t want to leave it when they are about to start a family but are currently left with no choice but to move as there is no family housing, school and little family healthcare available. He added: “We need to be leading the market on this, not the other way round.”
Meanwhile, LSDG recently published a prospectus for delivering its vision for a new city centre community to the south of the river.
The LSDG says it is responding to the Leeds City Council’s long term aim for Leeds to be the ‘Best City in the UK’ in the period 2011 to 2030 and, in the shorter term, to relieve the pressure for new housing to be built on greenfield sites on the outskirts of Leeds. It’s also responding to the council’s own plans to revitalise the city’s South Bank area.
In preparing the document, the LSDG has researched many examples of regional city centres across Europe. In places such as Malmo, Freiburg and Amsterdam, it says the use of ‘Compact City’ and ‘Smart City’ approaches has successfully regenerated their city centre communities, physically, economically, socially and culturally.
Mr Lumb added there were so many rumours floating around about what was coming to the area – a new transport hub for HS2 to name but one: “So much is still floating around in the air,” he adds.
But he is certain of one thing – to follow on from London’s ‘Olympic legacy effect’ which has seen much of the East End regenerated, Leeds should bid to become European Capital of Culture – an arts trail as part of The Hunslet Stray could be an early ‘flagship’ for the city’s bid. The knock on effects for regeneration could be tremendous, but planning and conversations need to start now.