Victoria Gate boasts a John Lewis store and god knows how many upmarket retail outlets (or shops as we used to call them). I was confused for a few minutes yesterday morning looking at my Twitter feed. There was so much talk about Victoria Gate that for a moment I thought I’d missed the latest scandal.
Was there news of some previously hidden indiscretion by Queen Victoria, or worse Victoria Wood? Why was everyone talking about Victoriagate?
It was a weak joke yesterday and it’s still a weak joke today. What can I say? I’m sorry.
The city is, or at least the movers and shakers in the city are, very excited by this opening. Looking at the numbers, perhaps they are right to be. Hammerson have invested £165 million building it and it has created 1,500 jobs and 800 car park spaces.
The size of the investment shows ‘confidence’ in the city, or at least the city region.
We clearly need jobs in Leeds and I understand the council have worked well with employers to make sure as many jobs as possible go to people from areas like ours (there was a jobs fair at St George’s centre in Middleton earlier this year). But is retail and high end retail at that really the way we build the Leeds economy?
Phil Kirby wrote an interesting review over on The Culture Vulture. It was mostly about the architecture and unlike my Other Half, Phil likes the new car park. But he also made some good points about how people like us see and will see Victoria Gate – from the outside.
We are the sort of people who walk around the city centre, especially the markets end of it. We are the sort of people who travel by bus, not up Vicar Lane for the last year or so, but round Crown Point and up Eastgate past the building site.
It’s been fenced off. The physical fences are down now, but how many of us will venture in, apart to have a bit of a gawp. How many of us can afford to buy anything in Victoria Gate?
Now I have to declare a soft spot for John Lewis. I was lucky (or unlucky) enough to grow up in central London and the Peter Jones department store (a branch of John Lewis) was on our doorstep. They sold quality goods and they were ‘never knowingly undersold’ – a posh phrase for price-matching. If you can afford quality goods, they are good place to buy them – but they are not a pound shop.
South Leeds is going to benefit from Victoria Gate, but in a rather second-hand way.
Firstly (I hope) some of our people have got jobs working in the place. Not something to be dismissed lightly, particularly if it’s a proper permanent contract.
Secondly John Lewis are one the key partners standing behind the Leeds Fund which will see the Leeds Community Foundation dish out grants to very good causes around the city, including I’m sure many community groups here in LS10 and LS11.
Thirdly, one of the other tenants of Victoria Gate is a large casino, which as part of its licence has to pay money over to Leeds City Council to fund financial inclusion, debt advice and similar work in the city. We have lots of people in financial difficulty who could get help from a cash-strapped council through this initiative.
It’s not that I want to pour cold water on these benefits, but really? Is this this the best we can do as a city? It does rather a feel a bit like we’ve built this beautiful palace for the well-to-do from, let’s face it, the north of town, to do their shopping in. And in return we’ve been thrown some scraps from the table.
I can’t see that it’s doing much to improve social cohesion, but then I suspect that social cohesion is an aspiration that is always trumped by economic development.
Oh and that car park? I thought we were trying to keep cars out of the city centre, but then the target demographic for Victoria Gate don’t do public transport.
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.