Within the space of a couple of weeks I have been asked to do talks and give my impressions of Leeds and Dewsbury. Leeds is seen as pretty successful with a history of significant inward investment, its the regional capital with a population of about ¾ of a million. Dewsbury on the other hand is seen to have problems, it’s the largest town in Kirklees (population of Kirklees is over 300,000), but is perceived to have significant deprivation issues, and in comparison to Leeds is struggling to attract investment.
Dewsbury is only a 14 miles and a ten minute train ride from Leeds and in a way reminds me of Gateshead’s relationship with Newcastle a decade or so ago. Gateshead was seen as poor relation to Newcastle but a strong leadership and bravery that manifested itself in The Angel of the North, the Baltic, The Sage, the Stirling Prize winning Millennium Bridge and the housing development that HemingwayDesign have been involved with The Staiths has led to Newcastle being more than happy enough to rebrand the conurbation Newcastle Gateshead (it didn’t have much choice when most of the good stuff is popping up on the Gateshead bank of The Tyne!). Importantly a creative community is starting to colonise more affordable Gateshead and the future of Gateshead looks very rosy indeed.
Like Newcastle, Leeds may have attracted all the apartment building but as I have been saying for a while, this flurry of building of “buy to leave empty” and “buy to let” apartments is city centre regeneration that in parts is built on sand. How can community develop or the ground floor mixed use work when up to 80% of an apartment block remains unlived in despite all the units being sold? Not all of us who like urban living are singles or couples without kids and the “Friends” lifestyle doesn’t work in one bed flats and studios. Add to that, 20 storey architecturally challenged identikit apartment buildings, surrounded by tarmac, that are just short term city centre equivalents of the mass housebuilder suburban rabbit hutches, and all is not with some of our northern cities urban renaissance.