In the last two decades Leeds has grown.
While fewer people live in some outer wards, many more live in central wards. Nowhere is this clearer than in City & Hunslet ward where the population has more than doubled in recent decades.
Today, much more of Leeds is a busy, exciting, and bustling place than it was when I was a kid. And because growth has focused on ex-industrial sites in the city-centre, 87% of new homes built in Leeds since 2000 have been on brownfield sites.
But growth hasn’t been evenly spread. While central flats have shot up the population in outer wards has remained more or less the same. And as families have grown up and children have left home, the number of people living in places like Cross Gates, Adel, Otley, and Yeadon has declined.
Should we worry that growth isn’t being evenly spread? Or celebrate that places that don’t want to grow have been able to choose that?
I think that Leeds should continue to grow in the coming decades. The council agrees. We already know where the next 15,000 homes will be built .
The city-centre will again be a focus. Brownfield sites will again host most of the new homes. — this time 73%. But there will also be expansion onto greenfield sites, especially in South and East Leeds. This sounds reasonable to me.
So far in order to support the current focus on central growth there’s been a new park at Sovereign Square and another opposite the Tetley, providing greenspace that people said they wanted. The Printworks Campus of Leeds City College, Leeds University Technical College, Leeds College of Building Hunslet campus and the new Ruth Gorse academy are providing education in the city-centre. And the new Southern entrance to Leeds station has improved access to visitors by train.
But what else should we be doing? Some people argue that the city council focuses too much on investment in the city centre, but if that is the only place that is growing then that feels right to me.
If people want investment to be more widely spread, then Leeds should be looking to grow in more places. City-centre living is great for some people, but there’s only so many families who’ll want to live in central flats.
We should be expanding schools in outer areas, promoting job creation and growth, and expanding Leeds by building more homes and workplaces.
Many families want a garden, a space to park a car, and a bit more distance between them and the main road, a noisy bar, or maybe even their own neighbours. You only have to look at house prices to see that many people want to live in the suburbs.
But at the moment we don’t build enough homes for them to be able to afford it.
I’m not suggesting an unplanned free-for-all. All development in Leeds should be properly planned, as it is today. But by expanding our city a bit we can provide more people with the type of family homes that they want. We can save some brownfield sites in the city centre for industrial use, parks, shops, cafes, pubs, and things other than homes. And we can help to pay our way within the UK and do our bit to safeguard the services that we enjoy today.