At Bevan Brittan, we’re delighted to have our offices in the heart of Leeds in Toronto Square.
It’s a great base for us in the centre of the City and is a fine example of the new built upon the old: Toronto Square was once the site of Cloth Hall Court, one of the city’s two major textile trading centres throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. From a manufacturing base, the City has moved into the 21st century with 40% growth in the last decade alone.
In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of place: harnessing the character of the past with the needs of the future to create spaces that add to quality of life and bolster productivity. Leeds City Council has now published an ambitious draft strategy called ‘Leeds: Our Spaces’ in which “our public realm becomes the city’s greatest cultural asset”. The vision in the strategy, which is under consultation until February, is of a city maximising its public spaces, including a re-design of City Square; the pedestrianisation of our adjacent street, Quebec Street, which would become a linear garden; and the narrowing of carriageways on both East Parade and Park Row to allow for wider footpaths and cycle paths.
There will no doubt be some challenges and issues to overcome, including around funding the proposed re-designs. Local government has seen cuts of over 50% in Central Government Grant since 2010 and austerity continues to make itself felt. With Brexit casting further uncertainty, finding the funds to finance the necessary investments – whilst maintaining other crucial public services – may not be straightforward.
The reduction in carriageway space in and around key destinations such as the railway station will also prove a challenge unless the City also sees an increased investment in public transport. Leeds is still a city where 53% of commuters drive: the difficulties experienced by passengers on the transpennine route are well documented; and Leeds has not had the opportunity to develop a sustainable tram or metro system. Recently published figures from the think tank IPPR show that, whilst spending in London on transport is roughly £1,019 per head, it is a mere £315 per head in the Yorkshire and Humber.
The Council is seeking to encourage commuters to switch to "greener" modes of transport, in line with the priorities of city leaders nationally as set out in the recent Centre for Cities Urban Voices report. There are plans in Leeds for a Clean Air Zone, to be introduced next year, while an electric vehicle charging point network is also being developed by West Yorkshire Combined Authority in collaboration with the energy and service provider ENGIE.
Public-private partnerships will undoubtedly be an essential part of designing a City fit for the future. Leeds is a city with a successful track record of the private, public and third sector working together to create employment and opportunities – something that must have been apparent to Channel 4 in choosing to re-locate here.
At Bevan Brittan, we regularly advise on the commercial agreements between public and private partners, including advising on governance, and on contract management measures and performance mechanisms. We know what can be achieved by the public and private sectors working together effectively – and what steps to take when things do not go as planned.
We cannot know at the start of 2019 where the political landscape will be by the end of this year, and what impact this will have on funding. We do know, though, that the business community of Leeds will have a key role in assisting the city to maximise its opportunities from its historic past and building growth for the future. At Bevan Brittan we look forward to contributing to that growth.
Judith Barnes and Judith Hopper