This historic street has been neglected for over forty years. Although it has a rich and meaningful history, it had become a no-go street for all but the brave. It was a pleasure to see the beginnings of change which respects the heritage and proposes new uses and innovative design to enrich the street. This is a great street emerging from the darkness.
The street will become a diverse and vibrant area which will complement the more traditional retail streets surrounding it. The enhancements are happening in an organic way with stakeholders and council is collaborating to encourage forward thinking. All the participants want to enhance whilst avoiding overdevelopment or gentrification. This was the first street ever to be built in Leeds and the 1st White Cloth Hall was the prime driver for Leeds to become a regional and global textile centre.
The Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI) was funded from a grant received by Leeds City Council for Kirkgate. The THI has made a major contribution to this, long overdue, regeneration of Kirkgate by filling the funding gap. The THI has regular stakeholder meetings for owners, tenants, agents and planners and is a great example of public / private initiatives driven by a common desire to succeed. This street is demonstrating the theories of Kelvin Campbell’s book, ‘Making massive small change,’ (2018). The Kirkgate Planning Statements was adopted in 2011.
The 18th and 19th century fabric creates a small-scale grain based upon the historic burbage plots.The Leeds Civic Trust are passionate about the development of the city and the assessors were given an excellent illustrated book showing their research. This deep understanding of history means that the recent changes respect and enrich the sense of place. Kirkgate slopes down from the City Centre towards Leeds Parish Church and the name means “road to the church”. The views of roofscape from the street are very visible and the THI have identified chimney reinstatement and rooftop features as an aspiration. Traditionally local Yorkshire paving and setts would have been used but these are long gone. The public realm plan is to reinstate these materials over time.
East Street Arts is a Leeds based social arts enterprise which works across the UK and Europe, and it has established an Arts Hostel. This was an uplifting visit to see how the organisation encouraged cultural activity in a previously derelict building. East Street Arts works with property owners to bring activity to underutilised buildings. Kirkgate Market is an impressive amenity for the whole street. The manager showed the variety of retail offers within Europe’s largest covered market. Food, goods and services are offered in great variety in the market and a programme of events animate the market every weekend. It is multi-ethnic and intergenerational and makes a fantastic statement at the end of Lower Kirkgate.
The restored and extended First White Cloth Hall promises to be an exciting and provocative building if the promise of the CGIs is fulfilled. The City Conservation team is to be congratulated on balancing historical accuracy with forward thinking architecture. Even 5 years ago you would have to be foolhardy or actively seeking trouble to go here after dark. The transformation to a desirable area is dramatic and significant. Refurbishments around the Minister have created natural surveillance.
The city centre has a cumulative impact policy regarding alcohol licence policies. Previously new applications were not supported due to the legacy of antisocial behaviour but food led restaurants have begun to change the perception of the street attracting independent operators.
The Market and cultural activities encourage social interaction in many ways. The cycling scheme crosses the street. The railway arches did block views of the Minister when they were built but they are a unique Victorian urban experience.
Wapentake and Doghouse restaurant and pub are fantastic pointers to the future. They are urban pioneers who have already made massive changes to the street. The pace of change should accelerate when the First White Cloth Hall project is finished in the next two years and other schemes come on stream. At the upper end the retail offer seems robust and interesting and the success future of the market seems guaranteed by the adjacent Victoria Leeds scheme opened in 2016. The market stalls start at £25 a day and provide at support to local businesses. The new restaurants and bars show that start-ups can prosper here but it was unclear how the THI is encouraging this initiative.
The THI provides funding for appropriate standard repairs to cover the conservation deficit. This grant is an excellent way of helping owners restore buildings which may be uneconomic. Rushbond Plc, City Fusion and Mood Developments conservations are to be congratulated because they are investing in this part of the street despite the feasibility issues.The street has excellent transport connections which make access very sustainable. The reuse of buildings ensures retention of the embodied energy within them. Given the forward thinking of the planners we were disappointed to not hear of more sustainability initiatives here.
The grant system encourages the organic revitalisation of the street by tipping the economic balance. The organisations involved are actively encouraging new businesses in the area and the small built grant can help this. The Doghouse mixes vinyl sales with a lively bar and is exactly on trend currently. The planners are wanting to encourage this enrichment of diversity, but it is too soon to have evidence of this. The young hipster customers are good urban pioneers but how will other diversity be encouraged?
Spaces around the Minister provide respite from the city centre. The £8 million future cycle superhighway passes through the site. This is a superb location for connectivity. There are plans to enhance pedestrian movement through the site particularly the link with the city centre and the public transport is excellent. The Market has 16 difference access points and is a connectivity hub to all of the centre.
There is a perceived disconnect where the pedestrianised upper Kirkgate meets emerging lower street. A good wayfinding strategy is needed here but was not discussed. The cross links also need a coherent strategy. There did not seem to be an integrated vision of how this would fit with the policy of organic public / private growth.