South of the River – What’s my name?

Compass-SouthComment logo 2I talked about personal identity a few weeks ago and today I want to discuss neighbourhood identity.

There’s a bit of South Leeds that has been purloined by the city centre. You might call it north Holbeck and north Hunslet. You might call it that post-industrial strip between the river and residential south Leeds. Or, like Leeds City Council you might call it The South Bank.

The council have launched a brochure aimed at developers called ‘Leeds South Bank – a new direction for a new kind of city’. It’s very shiny and rather fab – you can look at it here on the council website.

It was launched at two locations. One was the Cross Keys pub on Water Lane, which I referred to last week. The second was something called MIPIM. Never heard of it? I’m not surprised, but you should know that it’s an important European development trade show held in Cannes in the south of France each year. Yes they’re flogging Holbeck in Cannes!

The important thing about the South Bank (and I am going to refer to it as the South Bank from now on) is that it is “one of the most significant regeneration opportunities in Europe.” That’s according to Tom Bridges, the city’s Chief Economic Officer. There are two reasons for this.

Firstly there is its size, 136 hectares. I struggle to visualise a hectare. One hectare measures two and a half acres if that helps you, it doesn’t help me because I can’t visualise an acre either. Apparently 136 hectares is the size of the Georgian ‘New Town’ in Edinburgh. That helps me as I lived amongst those fine terraces and squares for eight months. It’s also about half the size of Middleton Park. Trust me it’s big.

Secondly, the South Bank area is bang next to a large thriving city centre. Leeds’ prosperity may not be evenly distributed, but it undoubtedly has a thriving city centre. It’s not just the shops, it’s the ‘cultural quarter’ and most importantly business. Unlike many northern cities, Leeds reinvented itself as a financial and legal centre as engineering and textiles declined.

So I agree with Tom, I think this is one of the most significant regeneration opportunities in Europe.

But do we have to call it the South Bank? Well, yes I think we do, if we want to be involved in the debate about it is shaped. That’s a very important debate, because there’s more than one way to develop an area. It could be inclusive, human with interesting public spaces that invite us in and through. Or, like the motorways of the 1960s, it could form a barrier and tell people in South Leeds this isn’t for you.

Now, like me, you might feel aggrieved that when it was a dirty industrial area it was Hunslet and Holbeck and now that it’s prime real estate they seem to have taken it away from us. The thing to remember is that whatever it’s called, it hasn’t physically moved.

I remember the debate about the last review of ward boundaries. In the first proposal Beeston was linked to Beeston Hill, whilst Holbeck was linked to Hunslet and the city centre. I forget what they were going to call this ward, but there was a false furore that that they were removing the historic name of Hunslet from the map of Leeds. They were removing it from the electoral map, but not the geographical map. Calling the area around the Tetleys brewery site South Bank does not obliterate or rename the residential area around Church Street. The Hunslet Club will not have to change its name to the South Bank Club.

John O’Farrell relates a story about a friend in London who refused to travel on the newly built Jubilee tube line in the 1970s because he was a republican. It was a pointless protest that only inconvenienced him. Refusing to call this area South Bank will only exclude us from the debate about shaping the area.

In that debate we can protect the area’s industrial heritage and makes sure it continues to serve our communities by providing employment and leisure opportunities and integrating with the rest of South Leeds.

South Bank has echoes of London’s South Bank and there’s an important lesson there. It’s now a thriving area with riverside walks, housing, the London Eye and Tate Modern. But in the 1970s it was destined to be corporate skyscapers. The local community around Coin Street fought the planners and amongst other things, such as cooperatively owned social housing, protected the riverside as public open space.

We need to follow their example and ensure that Leeds’ South Bank becomes an area we can be proud of.

I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.

2 Replies to “South of the River – What’s my name?”

  1. It has forced the area that used to be Hunslet further up the Road. Having said that a regeneration plan for the South Bank is to be applauded. We now have colleges, museums, new housing. Not all of this on the South Bank and this can only help people who live here in terms of new jobs and a better environment. Proud to live in Hunslet.
    Patricia Jackson

  2. Its true to say the name of an area means a lot to people but I think there is something in the idea of a wider “brand” shall we say to help get more money, practically from the private sector. It’s however important that the “brand” values the history and people of the area. South of the river has huge potential economically and we need to start thinking about the job and skill we’ll need for ourselves and the next generation over the 15-20 years down the line so that residents of this area are the main benefactors of the redevelopment not just subject to it and to make sure we can help bring up living standards.

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