Is Something Fishy Going on in the Eastgate Scheme
Hot on the heels of Leeds City Council’s crazy decision to reduce the size of Kirkgate Market by 25% as part of a remodelled market (click here) we learn that the adjacent Eastgate retail scheme could now be in trouble.
Development giants Hammerson are asking the council – and the city – to bend over backwards to make sure that John Lewis is part of the planned Eastgate shopping mall. A confidential document will be considered by councillors this week but the proposed changes will not be made public and will instead be discussed at a private pre-meeting of the council’s Executive Board.
Readers will recall that ‘Eastgate‘ is a £650m retail development covering a 1 million sq ft area that involves demolishing most of the existing Eastgate Terraces and iconic buildings like the Lyons Works Factory to make way for new John Lewis and Marks & Spencer stores and some 130 new shops, restaurants and bars. Having already been delayed once and forced to abandon any housing as part of a revised scheme due to the global financial crisis, a new outline planning application was approved in September 2011.
Friends of Leeds Kirkgate Market along with the Market Traders Federation actively opposed the Eastgate scheme due to major concerns about its likely impact on the Market, and a further 180 people (including traders) objected to the scheme. One of these objections concerned the design of the John Lewis store which turned its back on the Market and the potential traffic chaos on George Street as a result of John Lewis traffic and the creation of a new one-way traffic system. Another concern was the potential lack of demand for yet more shops in Leeds City Centre particularly in times of economic crisis. But Hammerson presented consultancy reports that assured the council and the public that the project was commercially viable. Now we learn in this new report that the John Lewis store is not currently commercially viable: “Changes will be required to the existing legal documentation”. What changes? John Lewis clearly has doubts over the scheme.
Shortly after the Eastgate plans were given outline planning permission last year, John Lewis chief exec Andy Street said: “To bring the huge retail regeneration of the city centre of the scale of Eastgate, this isn’t just about John Lewis, lots of other things in the background have got to come together. That’s what we keep saying to the chief executive and leader of Leeds City Council. You’ve got to make that context happen so Hammerson can deliver their commercial piece.” (LeedsBusinessDeskinterviewNovember 2011)
Friends of Leeds Kirkgate Market only heard about these proposed changes from the LeedsCitizen blog so we read with surprise in the report going to Executive Board that “Meetings have been held on a regular basis with the Civic Trust, the Kirkgate Market Forum (traders & members) and there has been dialogue with the Friends of the Kirkgate Market” (paragraph 4.1.1.).
FOLKM had one meeting with Hammerson on the 1st of June last year – a 40 minute power point presentation and a frustrating session where we asked questions which Hammerson didn’t or couldn’t answer. This can hardly be described as “dialogue”.
Is this an attempt to convince John Lewis that everyone is on board and waiting to welcome them to the city with open arms? What is it that would make our city a more attractive proposition for John Lewis? How will it affect the market? Why is John Lewis calling the shots over this scheme? Why are these decisions and discussions taking place behind closed doors?