Lottery plan to rescue city’s historic White Cloth Hall

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Council chiefs are working to find a lifeline to restore Leeds’s historic First White Cloth Hall and save it from demolition.

Conservationists, including Leeds Civic Trust, have long been calling for action to save the city’s First White Cloth Hall in Kirkgate.

The hall was built for producers of undyed cloth who had previously traded in Briggate and was instrumental in establishing Leeds as a key commercial centre.

It is hoped that a bid for cash from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) can save the historic cloth hall from demolition.

On Thursday members of Leeds City Council’s city centre plans panel will hear details of how plans to rescue the building are progressing. An initial bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) was backed and now council bosses are working on a more detailed bid, which if councillors back the proposals at a later meeting, is expected to be submitted next month.

If members agree to go ahead with the bid to regenerate Kirkgate, a decision on whether it has been successful, is expected in June.

A report to the committee says: “The council is working with the owner and other funders and stakeholders, including the Heritage Lottery fund, to find a viable option for the restoration of the First White Cloth Hall.”

Earlier the building’s west wing had to be dismantled following the partial collapse of the building next door. The work was carried out with input from English Heritage structural engineers and wall and roof materials were salvaged and retained for reuse.

Surveys carried out following the dismantling of the building’s west wing have indicated the structure is capable of repair and so eligible for public funding.

Councillors will be told that it is anticipated that the historic building would be refurbished for retail/leisure use.

The report adds: “The First White Cloth Hall appraisal has identified a full restoration of the First White Cloth Hall with a rebuilt west wing in keeping with what remains of the east and south wings.

“In this option the 19th century gable of the extant east wing would be retained (mirrored on the rebuilt west wing), the re-opened courtyard would see the archway details restored.......”

“Recent discussions with the Civic Trust and English Heritage suggest they are comfortable with this option,” the report adds.

A stage two bid to the HLF to regenerate Kirkgate could provide funds towards the restoration and refurbishment of the grade II*-listed hall, which was built in 1711.

If approved by the HLF, just over £1.5m of lottery money would be available for the scheme and £500,000 of the cash would go towards the restoration of the hall.

A development masterplan has been put together for the area near the cloth hall. It is at an early stage but suggestions include creating better pedestrian access to the area.

But a report to the council’s city centre plans panel warns more money would be needed to save the hall.

It says: “The funding from the HLF combined with other possible grant sources will not be sufficient and the majority of the initial capital outlay will have to be met by borrowing and cross subsidy from the development gain arising from the owner’s other landholdings.”

The First White Cloth Hall is arguably Leeds’ most important building because it is here that Leeds stole a march on the neighbouring towns in the district and established itself as a commercial capital.

Built in 1711, it was the first cloth hall to be built in Leeds, catering for producers of undyed cloth, who had previously sold their cloth in Briggate and was directly spurred by the building of a hall in Wakefield during the same year.

A further report on whether to back a the HLF bid is due to be considered by members of the council’s executive next month.