Yorkshire Forward have recently unveiled plans (again) for the regeneration of the tiny, but very well positioned Tower Works site in Leeds. A quick search of the YF site shows that this has been rumbling on since the land was acquired in 2006.
The usual PR froth is being spewed out – ‘mixed use development’, ‘Italianate Towers’, ‘Giotto’, ‘supporting creative and digital industries’, ‘Leeds as a major business centre’….’vibrant community’ etc. But haven’t we been fed this line somewhere before?
Original plans for some 145 000 square feet of office space have been reduced to 18000 square feet in the ‘first phase’. But this will put still more pressure on Holbeck Urban Village where, at a casual glance, occupancy (outside of The Round Foundry) is poor.
The re-development of Tower Works will be financed by a mix of public and private finance. The public element coming from Yorkshire Forward seems to be just shy of £20 million. The private investment will mean that only those aspects of the development that are most likely to provide a good return are likely to happen quickly. With Holbeck Estates going into administration it is not yet at all clear how any developer will make their returns.
Perhaps it is a time for a change of tack?
Currently we invest enormous sums of public cash in developers to sweeten deals sufficiently to enable them to provide an infrastructure that will attract the creative classes to Leeds. Tower Works, the new southern entrance to the station, Neville St refurbishment, Latitude, Wellington St, I could go on. Once we have got things just right, and our 15 year plans have come to fruition, then surely things will come good? Well, if it all works out well, perhaps, yes. Those with the skills and the finance to use the infrastructure might be able to accrue more wealth. And, if you still believe in ‘trickle down’ (probably Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy as well), then the economic benefits will also flow out to the poorer communities enabling the ‘gap’ to be maintained rather than widened. Perhaps the enterprise fairytale will have a happy ending this time. Perhaps…if we combine best case scenario with that holy grail of trickle down. Now I am all for optimism, confidence and positive thinking – but the realist in me says ‘Perhaps not’.
Worst case scenario? Developers, architects, public servants and planners get paid their fees and salaries and we get left with yet more low occupancy real estate. And I am not talking schools and GP practices. I am talking office space. Leeds is already awash with infrastructure – yet we intend to create more.
What would happen if we used that £20m to provide a serious programme of enterprise outreach education? (And before anyone says isn’t that what LEGI did, no they did not. They too put the money primarily into infrastructure at Shine and Hillside offering expensive premium office space).
What would happen if we provided high quality, sustained, long term and person centred community development work?
What if we taught local people the importance of bootstrapping, skill development and building social networks that pursued sustainable communities?
What if we helped them to create their own futures rather than enveloping them in the vision of the anointed?
Would our faith in the creativity, hard work and application of the people of Leeds be rewarded?