Where is this new part of Leeds? It is bounded by the River Aire to the north, the Inner Ring road extension (ie the Hunslet flyover – properly the John Smeaton flyover); the two branches of the M621 to the south and the rail line (the Wortley curve?) in Holbeck to the west.
If you look on a map, classing this area as part of the city centre makes a lot of sense. It is commercial land. It may have been the cradle of the industrial revolution, but there is less and less industry there. Yorkshire Chemicals and Tetley’s Breweries are just the most recent and high profile companies to leave the area. The only residential properties are city-living flats around Clarence Dock, sorry “New Dock”, and the student flats next to the Royal Armouries.
Poor old Planners. They must be one of the most unpopular groups of public sector workers, along with traffic wardens and social workers. No matter what they do, someone will blame them.
Take Leek Street flats. Built in Hunslet in the 1960s and demolished fifteen years later. A planning disaster. Or was it? My other half worked for while on the Scharnhorst estate in our twin city of Dortmund in Germany. It looked just like Leek Street, except that there were shops, window boxes and affordable heating bills. The flats had been built to a much higher standard and the “extras” were not cut back when the budget got tight.
I sometimes think I should have been a planner. I love poring over maps and plans and I’m keen on change. I always think change will be for the better, although as I get older I’m slowly losing that optimism.
The problem is that planners think much faster than communities. Communities are more conservative in their outlook, and not necessarily in a bad way. We must understand how people and communities think about themselves. City Centre South is what we call Hunslet and Holbeck. The connection was between living in the residential parts of Hunslet & Holbeck and working in the factories. It doesn’t matter that people don’t live those lives any more, the collective memory remains.
The planners say it’s mad that the city centre is all to the north of the river. Maybe, but it has always been so.
The tale goes that there were three streets in Leeds originally: Briggate led to the bridge, Kirkgate led to the church and Swinegate led to Bradford (© Cllr A Carter). Leeds grew up on the cloth trade and the Cloth Halls and later the Corn Exchange are all north of the river.
The City has grown since then of course, and it continues to grow. The Planners’ job is to help shape how that growth occurs. Looking at a map there’s little room to the north where the Universities are, the east is being fast developed, the west has some potential along the Kirkstall Road. But look at the south! A whole swathe of derelict sites: Kays, Tetleys, Yorkshire Chemicals. Almost a blank canvas on which to draw a master-plan.
It’s easy to be cynical and point to past mistakes made by planners, but actually I’m in favour of master-planning. Not because it’s a guarantee of success, but look at the alternative – the market. Do we want individual developers buying up pieces of land and building whatever they think will make them money? Isn’t that how Armley got residential streets next to an asbestos factory and all the death and disease that brought?
I think part of the answer is to look at the boundary areas of new and old development. We must ensure that City Centre South (or whatever it’s called) looks south to Hunslet and Holbeck as well as north to the rest of the city centre. There’s also got to be “something in it” for the older areas. Some money needs to be spent on infrastructure, housing improvements, services. Otherwise the new shiny developments get all the attention and the older communities feel forgotten. And I think you need planning requirements to make sure that can happen.
I’ll be back next week with more views from South of the River. In the meantime you can follow me on Twitter @BeestonJeremy.