South of the River – in “City Centre South”

Before the present consultation about a new high school, I confess I hadn’t heard of “City Centre South”. Hunslet? Yes. Holbeck? Yes. But City Centre South? Where’s that?

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.

7 Replies to “South of the River – in “City Centre South””

  1. Glad you see the massive potential! And all within walking distance of the old-established city centre.
    What do you think of a distinction we try to make between a framework and a masterplan? Rather than a prescriptive site-by-site set of stipulations, there should perhaps be some notion of the overall nature of the place that could ultimately be created, with a sense of the mix of land uses and the services needed to make it work and some strategic or historic sites earmarked for particular uses. It would certainly be a mistake to allow incoherent, piecemeal development.
    We even thought of a ‘Sustainable Development Corporation’ with landowners co-operating properly to produce co-ordinated, phased development and associated infrastructure that could be in place in the medium- to long-term.
    With the proposed new Academy in the offing, it is likely that early pupils will mostly be commuting into the city centre or making the journey across from ‘the rim’. It won’t take long for developers to see the sense of producing a mix of housing on nearby sites. Eventually, if there’s sensible foresight, we could have a whole new multi-functional neighbourhood within this extensive but remarkably central area. A worthwhile portion of the housing supply that is said to be needed in Leeds can be fitted into this area, and it would help to take a bit of pressure off the green belt.
    Anyway, I agree that planners – and all interested in the massive potential here – need to think fast to ensure that there is, if not a masterplan to prescribe development then certainly a framework to guide it.

    (BTW: as well as New Dock, there is also some residential in Holbeck Urban Village and around Victoria Quays, but nothing further south).

    1. Thanks for your comments Rachael. I take your point about directing residential development here to take the pressure of the green belt, but I suspect many of our readers are more concerned about their part of the city. Unfortunately there is a history of un-asked-for development (over hundreds of years) in the inner city, the leafy suburbs seem to always get more consideration. Perhaps because this is where the policy makers live?

      Of course I’m aware of the homes in the Holbeck Urban Village. I think the fact that I omitted to mention them was that I was thinking about Hunslet at the time. You see, we still see Holbeck and Hunslet, we haven’t got our heads round City Centre South yet! BTW where is (are?) Victoria Quays?

  2. Jeremy/Rachael,

    This is an interesting discussion. For me the fundamental question is, ‘what is the role for this part of the city for the future?’

    Other parts of the city centre have clearly defined functions. For example, the Prime Retail Quarter the Civic Quarter (with the Universities, Courts, LGI and City Hall) the prime office quarter – West End, Wellington Place and Park Square the leisure circuits of The Calls, Greek Street and the Arena. In this context what is to become of this city centre south area? Where is the demand going to come from?

    There are already a number of ‘diamonds’ in the area including the Royal Armouries/New Dock, Crown Point Retail Park, ASDA headquarters, Bridgewater Place, Round Foundry. Whether or not you like all the architecture, these developments all generate activity and footfall and commercial activity.

    Other developments have the potential to build-on this and create linkages both internally and to the rest of the city both north and south. For example the proposed City Park could link both Crown Point Retail Park and New Dock to the City Centre via Bridge End. The City College at the Printworks will bring young people to this part of the city and the Trolley Bus will create linkage further afield.

    There is significant potential for family housing on sites in this part of the city centre. This should be a wider mix of tenure and size over the last generation of 1 and 2 bed apartments. The City Park will help to create the right environment for this type of development, but other initiatives are required including the reduction and calming of the road space and of course a high quality school. This is where the proposed Free School fits in to the mix. For more information and an online comments form see –

    Given the recession and the current pause in development activity, we have a once in a life time opportunity to plan the infrastructure and make the critical linkages between the development sites and the communities to the south of the motorway. The communities of Hunslet, Holbeck and Beeston would prosper by removing the existing barriers of busy roads and vacant sites and truly reconnecting them to the city centre.


  3. So what do people currently living in inner city communities of south Leeds get from this?

    I would guess from Rachael’s comment that ‘it is likely that early pupils will mostly be commuting into the city centre or making the journey across from ‘the rim’.’ that what is being offered is increased traffic congestion and pollution! Given the track record of academies selecting children I have my doubts that this will be of particularly benefit to the communities I am particularly concerned about.

    The secret of real regeneration – and why it is so difficult – is making connections across boundaries toi make sure benefits are shared. I know what Rachael means by there is ‘nothing further south’ but that is because she is referring to an arbitrary line on a map there is ‘residential’ further south and its connections to them that I am interested in!

    In terms of Ben ‘s comments the concrete benefits he refers to look north e.g the City Park linking to Crown Point Retail Park.

    How much of the housing development will be for shared ownership and affordable rent? Will people in neighbouring communities get priority for this housing?

    Ben writes: The communities of Hunslet, Holbeck and Beeston would prosper by removing the existing barriers of busy roads and vacant sites and truly reconnecting them to the city centre.’ How? How did Holbeck Urban Village benefit them?

    The web site and on line questionnaire Ben refers us to is very scant on information and entirely biased – I quote: ‘Please can you take the time to complete the short questionnaire and to lend us your support to this exciting and innovative initiative.’

    A school might be an appropriate use of part of the land but I fear it will cream off the more able pupils from existing schools, make them more vulnerable financially and perpetuate social divisions.

    None of this should detract from the importance of taking this opportunity and trying to get it right.

  4. Thanks Steve for sharing your ‘secret’ about making the cross boundary linkages. This was precisely what I was referring to by ‘linkages internally [within the South Bank area] and to the rest of the city north AND SOUTH’. I also referred to removing the ‘existing barriers to truly reconnect Holbeck and Beeston’.

    I take heart that you seem to agree that a new school ‘might be appropriate’ in this area. You should note that there will be no financial impact on other schools – we are bidding for new funding from DfE.

    I also agree that it is important to ‘get the [wider] opportunity right’. Of course, issues such as affordable housing are beyond our direct control. However, rest assured, we are doing all we can to get things right and we would like to hear from as many people as possible in this respect.

  5. Ben – My point re linkages was that you gave no examples of how the development might link southwards. In 30 years of working in housing and regeneration in Leeds I have seen no examples where city centre regeneration has assisted currently deprived communities except very peripherally. Can you provide one?

    I asked a specific question as to how this would be done particularly relating to ‘existing barriers to truly reconnect Holbeck and Beeston’ and which you haven’t answered merely repeated the intention. The most recent example Holbeck Urban Village signally failed to do so.

    There is no such things as ‘new’ funding from DfE or elsewhere in government at present – it is funded from savings to existing budgets and redirected. One of the drivers to academies has been successive governments giving freedoms and financial incentives to local authorities which are not available to schools which remain under local authority control.

    My anxiety is that the redevelopment will be led by professional and short term business interests who don’t have to live with the long term consequences.

  6. Steve – we’re on the same page here. Surely it’s about removing the physical barriers to connect Holbeck and Beeston to the city centre and also improving education and skills to enable access to jobs (at all levels)?

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