How will Eastgate development affect Leeds Kirkgate Market?
The latest proposals by developers for the redevelopment of Eastgate were put on public display on Friday 24th and Saturday 25th September in the Victoria Quarter in Leeds. They represent an enormous retail and entertainment development (1 million sq f) on the East of Leeds City Centre which will be immediately adjacent to Leeds Kirkgate Market. The plans can be traced back to before 2004 and are extremely controversial, not least because they involve major demolition of existing buildings and enterprises. Throughout, Leeds City Council has been keen to entice the private developers – Hammerson and Town Centre Securities – to include a redevelopment of Kirkgate Market in the Eastgate project. In 2008 a public consultation was conducted on this very possibility. The new plans for the Eastgate Development however do not consider this option. This might be good news as the previous proposal included a major restructuring of the Market, demolishing almost the whole of the 1975/1981 area with a lot of uncertainty for traders.
The new proposals still pose a potential threat, however. When we asked the developers at the exhibition the consequences for Kirkgate Market it was clear that not much thought had been given to this and all they could say was that it would be very positive. The Council clearly believes it will have an impact as it has been signaled as one of the reasons why the Market strategy is delayed and it keeps being mentioned as a good prospect for the Market.
However we believe that there are serious concerns about the impact of the project on the Market
1. The Eastgate development will be built on top of the car park that currently serves the Market. This is a BIG WORRY for traders and customers. At the moment car parking is always an issue mentioned by customers as to why they don’t use the Market more. In fact it came out as the most common response (14%) in the 2008 consultation when asked what would make people visit the Market more often (“Greater parking provision/free parking”). When we have been out there talking to people this always turns up as a huge worry. The Eastgate project will have parking (as much as double as now) but on the other side of the development and it will be managed by a private contractor not the Council as now with the possibility of higher carpark chargers. One big advantage of shopping at Kirkgate Market is its affordability but this is jeopardised if you have to pay high parking charges; it will be impossible to compete with out-of-town shopping centres.
2. The idea of yet another property development scheme hanging in the air creates instability and uncertainty for traders. To the extent that often traders are not able to get loans as banks don’t like the risk that a new retail development next door to the Market could entail. Traders have repeatedly asked the Council to issue a public statement guaranteeing the long term future of the Market which they could use to show banks the long terms prospects of their business but this has not materialised.
3. The Eastgate development aims to complete the gentrification of the shopping city centre. As expressed by the developers it intends to be an extension of the “Victoria Quarter” with the same kind of shopping in mind. In the latest design a John Lewis store will sit side by side to Kirkgate Market. The Council has said repeatedly that this will increase footfall in Kirkgate Market but it is hard to see how the same customer that shops in John Lewis or in the other luxury brands that are said to be coming to Eastgate will seamlessly walk and consume in Kirkgate Market. This could of course be a possibility if the gentrification of Kirkgate Market was a back strategy. Kirkgate Market will be left in an island surrounded by the Victoria Quarter, Eastgate, the regenerated Kirkgate Street and the upmarket Corn Exchange. There will be no excuses left for Kirkgate Market to continue to be an affordable shopping space accessible to low-income populations – a big chunk of Leeds! .
But the Eastgate development is far from finalised. The project got given outline planning permission in 2007 and was subsequently extended but they still need the planning permission to be approved by the Council. There will be consultation but in the meantime the developers say they want to hear your views so let’s all write what we think.