South of the River – Rough Trade

The Yorkshire Post reported this week that Burberry are “taking a moment to think through” their plans to build a new manufacturing base in Holbeck on the old Kays site.

I say the Kays site, but it’s a whole bunch of sites, including perhaps most importantly Temple Works, the Grade I listed building, which Burberry have a ‘commitment’ to renovate.

We were told in a blaze of publicity back in November 2015 that Burberry would be moving their current operation from Castleford and Cross Hills to Holbeck. Work was due to start on the new factory in 2016 and be complete in 2018. Since then Burberry have said very, very little and nothing has happened on site, except that a thriving cultural community that was bringing some life back to Temple Works were unceremoniously kicked out.

What could have happened to put dampeners on this exciting project? Oh yes, we had a referendum and decided to leave the European Union. I have some sympathy with Burberry, if I was a major international brand reliant on exports, I wouldn’t rush to invest in Britain with no idea what sort of trading arrangements might be in place in two years time.

Burberry, along with the new HS2 station and the Tetley site are the three key developments that will shape the ‘South Bank’ area of Holbeck and Hunslet. One seems to be on hold, HS2 will probably go ahead, but if the economy tanks it could easily stop at Birmingham. Let’s hope that IKEA-owned developers Vastint don’t get cold feet.

I’m not an uncritical fan of the South Bank project, but we do need the area to be regenerated otherwise our communities will remain cut adrift from the rest of the city by a wasteland of empty sites and busy roads.

When I say regeneration, I don’t just mean buildings, although buildings like Temple Works are a very important part of our heritage. It’s not in a great state, it can’t hang on for ever. As someone on Twitter said yesterday “when it’s gone it’s gone”.

Regeneration for me is about bringing an area back to life, it’s about community. It means jobs, homes and opportunities. Opportunities to enjoy open spaces, the river, concerts, art, food sport – the culture that Leeds has to offer. At the moment, Brexit is threatening that regeneration.

Then there was that other news this week: another general election.

As things stood, the Tories had a thin majority in the House of Commons and no majority in the House of Lords. That meant we had a fighting chance of influencing the Brexit negotiations. If May increases her majority, she can do whatever suits her. Given her track record on austerity I don’t fancy our chances much.

There are a lot of worried people in the country. People like the couple, both born abroad, who have lived and worked in Britain for decades but were told by the Home Office that their British born children would have to prove that they lived with their parents.

But it’s not just the individuals, listen to Farming Today or watch Countryfile. The agricultural business is terrified of losing access to EU workers. Even before any restrictions come into force (if indeed they do in the end) EU citizens are choosing to work elsewhere rather than come to a country where they are apparently unwelcome. The same is true of the NHS and social care.

“A ha!” I hear you say, “he’s a remoaner.”

Well yes and no. I do think we made a mistake voting for Brexit, I do think the Tories have taken a slim referendum majority to push for a hard Brexit and I would like another referendum. I don’t a re-run of the last referendum, it was one the most confusing and deceitful elections I can remember.

What I do want is a chance to say yes or no to the actual deal we get at the end of the negotiations.

I want to know what will happen to my friend’s 80 year old step dad who has lived here happily for twenty years on a German passport.

And I want to know if Burberry are going to face tarrifs that mean they move their investment from Holbeck to Hamburg, Helsinki, or Hungary.

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