Leeds steams ahead – but could still hit the buffers

A world class film and television studio – six separate studio buildings – is planned for the centre of Leeds. Earlier in the year Channel 4 announced their decision to relocate their HQ to Leeds, in the face of stiff competition. Two examples of a city on the rise.

A visitor to Leeds today sees a bustling city with regenerated industrial sites, new offices, shops, hotels and entertainment appearing almost daily.

But decisions being taken now might put a cap on Leeds’ future growth, and see its economy expand more slowly than it could or perhaps should.

Transport Infrastructure

Planning for the Leeds Supertram began in the 1980s. It was first discussed in Parliament in 1991. Yet in 2019 Leeds still has no light rail – the largest EU city without a rapid transit system.

Like Leeds, Greater Manchester was talking about a tram network in the 1980s and still had no trams by 1991. The first Manchester Metrolink line opened in 1992 and today there are 93 stops with more on the way.

With a constrained road network, Leeds faces the problem that people living further away from the centre will find their commute by car or bus becoming both slower and less reliable, acting as a brake on economic growth.

Lack of housing

In 2014 Leeds identified a need to build 66,000 new homes between 2012 and 2028. That figure has now been slashed by a third, with Leeds now aiming to build just 46,352 new homes between 2017 and 2033. Few of those new homes look likely to be affordable.

The new, lower, figure is based on the Government’s standard method for calculating housing need but, critically, that standard method assumes zero economic growth. It asks the question “If all else remains the same, how many new homes will Leeds need to build to deal with changing demographics and lifestyles?” but everything isn’t going to stay the same.

Leeds will – hopefully – grow its economy, attracting thousands of new workers and their families to the city. They will all need somewhere to live. If enough homes haven’t been built the result will be higher house prices and longer commutes. Companies may decide that the higher cost of living and lower quality of life mean Leeds is no longer the attractive place to do business that it once was.

Devolution

The sorry saga of Yorkshire devolution has been well-rehearsed. Despite many thousands of hours of discussions and claims from all parties of wanting to reach a solution, we seem to be no further forward.

This matters. London-based civil servants and ministers spend more money in their own area. They see it every day, they’re lobbied about it every day. It’s part of their lives. Yorkshire seems very remote in comparison. For every pound per head the government spends on transport infrastructure in Yorkshire and the Humber, it spends over £7 per head in London.

Unless Leeds can take control of more powers from central government, either on its own or part of a larger devolved authority, it will see more Supertram-style fiascos and lack the ability to respond to change either quickly or correctly.

A bright future?

Leeds is a thriving, bustling city that deserves to continue to grow. It would be a tragedy if its ambitions were defeated by a lack of housing, poor transport and too many decisions being taken 170 miles away.