Last modified: 18 August 2014
I'm as down to earth as the next bloke in Leeds. Which means I've never gone to the Trinity shopping centre. Not once.
Well, actually, one time I went to the Everyman cinema. But I didn't like it. It was too comfortable for me. And the picture was a bit too good 'n all — I prefer the Vue in the Light where you pay nearly as much for a crap experience. That's proper Leeds!
And once I went to the Lego shop to make a mini person with my friend and her kid. And wagamama, I went there too. But it was only because Rich suggested it. And then one of the bars too.
Yeah, alright, I've been to Trinity Kitchen once or twice too now that I think about it. But my point is, it wasn't local. It wasn't proper Leeds! It was at one of those big multinationals like Mike's Indie Ices from Leeds, and the Manjit's kitchen crew, from Leeds. Right, okay, so it was local, but I'm trying to make a point here.
My real point is this. We didn't need any more shops then! And we definitely don't now!
I mean just look what the development at Trinity has done to Holy Trinity Church!
Holy Trinity Church, Leeds in the Top-left 1800s, top-right 1950s, , bottom-left 2000s, and bottom-right, 2014. Top pictures via Leodis.net Copyright of Leeds Library & Information Services and used under Wikipedia fair use precedent.
Okay, it's made it nicer, and got a lot more people in, and made it more of the community it was in its prime. But... but... but...
Here's my serious point. Leeds is growing, that's great, and I think we should make the most of it. We're not paying for Victoria Gate, a developer is. As long as they don't need a big hidden subsidy from the council — lots of free land for car-parking spaces for example — then I welcome them. The city didn't need an Apple Shop, but I see a lot of people in there. It doesn't need a John Lewis but I bet it'll be busy when it opens. And if it isn't, it's not our money that'll be lost.
Yes, some businesses have lost their premises in the upheaval. Thai Aroy-Dee was great, but their new location in the Grand Arcade will be even better, and the newly pedestrianised Merrion Place is wonderful, with new businesses already open because of it.
Wherever I look in Leeds, things are happening. Near where I work there are new shared offices at One Aire Street, The nearly 400 year old Griffin Hotel is opening again after many years derelict. Next door there's a new hardware shop on Boar Lane, and Bundobust and Theravadu have opened on Mill Hill. Even on long-troubled Bond Square the local coffee people at La Bottega Milanese have opened a lovely new flagship shop. There's a large new office and shop complex going up opposite me, and more offices, and a hotel planned at Wellington Place. Across the river, Northern Monk Brewing Company are about to open in a long-disused flax mill, and the flats planned for the area should make the all-too-frequently-closed Commercial Inn worth opening more often too. Leeds City College's refurbishment of Printworks is stunning, and if you're worried that the Adelphi's refurbishment might make it a bit expensive there's still the Old Red Lion over the road with friendly service, cheap drinks, and that mental dog who makes you throw a tennis ball around for her. The Tetley has brought more people into the area and there's a new park where you can have your Fish & Chips from one of the best chips shops in town; Bridge End Fisheries. Honestly, try the Massala Fish. And have some pineapple fritters while you're at it.
All over the city centre great stuff is happening. The Greedy Pig has joined the Reliance and Hansa's on the isolated part of North Street, and the cycle parking the council pushed through because of the Grand Depart makes them even easier to get to. Further out of town there are a bunch of thriving business in Mabgate Mills that you've never heard of; a great bakery, a yoga place, and the Leeds Hackspace nearby.
These interesting things are possible because there's enough space available in Leeds to make rents cheap. We may not need any more space, but it will help keep us creative and interesting.
Let me give you an example. Last year local artists and makers used an empty shop on Regent's Street for an ASMbly lab. I know of at least three new business ideas that came from that one week, and the shop is now full again. Just over the road, East Street Arts is providing a space for great creative projects at a price they just couldn't afford if we refused to let Leeds continue growing. I bet we'll see more jobs, growth, and fun spring from that place.
Now I know there are downsides to all this change. We can talk about them. But there are huge upsides, so I want to be loud about that too. Cuation is okay, but let's not be so cautious that we fade into obscurity.
Leeds at its best is an exciting, risk-taking place. Let's not forget that because we're scared of there being a few too many shops, or a few flats that sit empty for a few years.