South of the River – Down By The River

What are we to make of Burberry saying ‘no thanks’ to restoring Temple Works in Holbeck?

For those who don’t know it, Temple Works is the jewel in the crown of Leeds’ industrial heritage, but we are perilously close to losing it forever. Built in the 1840’s as a Flax Mill by John Marshall, it is designed in the style of an Egyptian temple and includes what was then the largest room in the world. It now needs urgent attention to stop it falling down.

I’m looking forward to the Scrutiny Board questioning senior council officers about Burberry’s decision on Wednesday, but I fear we may not learn too much. I’ve been following the whole South Bank project (and the Holbeck Urban Village before that) for years. I like to think I’m pretty clued up on what’s going on and I try to share that knowledge via South Leeds Life.

I had understood that Leeds City Council had done a canny deal with Burberry. We will help you to assemble the land you need to build your new factory on the old Kays site and surrounding plots, in return you will take on restoring Temple Works. But no, it turned out Burberry had an ‘option’ to include Temple Works and guess what, they’ve decided not to saddle themselves with many millions of pounds worth of difficult heritage restoration work.

Will Burberry come to Holbeck at all? They’ve been having a think about it since the Brexit vote. The CEO who announced the move has gone and the new boss says his priority is cutting costs. So it doesn’t look hopeful from where I’m standing.

The council spin that Burberry are committed to Yorkshire and to Leeds, pointing to the relocation of their service centre to our fair city. But as The Leeds Citizen has pointed out, Leeds bought that relocation, offering more cash to Burberry than the saving they would make by going to Poland.

I don’t object to big firms being lured to Leeds. A job is a job and we need more of them, so it’s great that we have First Direct, O2 and HSBC in South Leeds, but is it sustainable? These firms can and do move from city to city, country to country.

Are we in a bidding war to keep them sweet with grants and subsidies? Shouldn’t we be subsidising growing local firms rather than multi national giants?

We used to grow our own businesses. I heard an interesting ‘fact’ (I haven’t been able to check it yet) the other week. Apparently Holbeck has the highest density of registered patents anywhere in the world, ever.

It sounds believable. Take a walk in Holbeck cemetery and you will find the monuments to the people who invented stone crushing machines, printing press innovations and the Singer sewing machine. The recent Farm Foods planning application threw up the interesting fact that a folding machine that made mechanised wrapping of goods possible was invented right here.

The advantage of these new firms is that they do have ties to their location and are more likely to stay in the city than flit as soon as the accountants spot a possible cost saving.

There are still firms like this. CITU are a Leeds-based property developer, but their plans for a Climate Innovation District in Hunslet are moving them into manufacturing.

CITU specialise in low carbon housing – high insulation, green energy, etc. They are building an estate on the north bank of the river at Low Fold, close to the John Smeaton viaduct in Hunslet (the new road link). What’s really interesting is that they are building a factory on the south bank to manufacture the homes in sections that can then be assembled onsite.

Wet and muddy construction sites could become a thing of the past as much of the work moves into clean dry factories. Walls are fitted with windows, electrical wiring, plaster, wallpaper, before being moved to site. CITU are not the first company to do this, but it is still uncommon.

Oh, and there’s one more thing about CITU. They were part of a consortium that came up with a plan to save Temple Works, before being ceremoniously dumped when Burberry came knocking.

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