When John Marshall was at the height of his powers in the 18th and 19th centuries, the contribution he made to Britain’s industrial might was to be so transformative it would put Leeds on the map forever.
Alongside his partners he took a patch of Leeds known as Holbeck and created a complex of mills that rivalled anything on the planet for industrial might.
This once world-leading industrial powerhouse has, like most manufacturing epicentres from this era, fallen into decline. But the iconic buildings it left behind, 33 of which are listed, remain hugely impressive and ripe for modern usage.
The potential of this part of Leeds has been recognised from many quarters and the South Bank project became the umbrella term to describe the area’s regeneration.
One of the centre-pieces of this project was plans to transform Marshall’s most impressive legacy, Temple Works.
Born out of the industrialist’s fascination with Egyptology, it took iconography from the ancient civilization and created a factory that was at one time the largest room in the world.
Plans to develop the South Bank were already underway when in November 2015 world-renowned brand Burberry decided to get involved.
The luxury manufacturer of trench coats announced that it was to relocate its coat weaving sites at Castleford and Cross Hills into Temple Works, redeveloping the site into a £50m state-of-the-art factory which would bring 1,000 jobs into the city.
Predictably, and correctly, the city laid out the red carpet for Burberry. Here was one of the most recognisable luxury brands in the world wanting to move its operations into the South Bank. As endorsements of regeneration plans go, it could not have been better. Council leader Judith Blake pledged to make Burberry’s relocation “as smooth as possible”.
As recently as July last year, it bosses told The Yorkshire Post: “We are absolutely still on track to open it in 2019.” But no start date was mentioned and some months ago the firm was forced to admit that it was re-examining plans.
As such the announcement last week that it was abandoning Temple Works came as no surprise. Its decision some week earlier to relocate 300 office jobs from London to Leeds, while welcome, smacked of a token conciliation offering to the city.
In the aftermath of the U-turn many began to question what next for the South Bank but in my view they should not as this project has already delivered a great deal.
The former Tetley site is now home to a fantastic art gallery and several fantastic creative firms. Current owners Vastint have subsequently unveiled plans for around 1,000 homes plus offices, leisure facilities and a hotel at the site.
The HS2 project will create a new station which, if successful, will make the South Bank one of the hottest pieces of real estate in the north.
Regeneration schemes old and new at the likes of Tower Works and Low Fold are at various stages of progress while august developers such as Citu, Oakapple Group, Dandara residential and Manor Mills residential are all investing in the area.
And let’s not forget that one of the country’s trendiest and fastest-growing breweries Northern Monk has its operations in area, just a stone’s throw from where Marshall’s mill complex stands.
The South Bank development will not be an overnight success, but a success it will be. The key thing now is that we do not allow Burberry’s decision to pull out of it to derail or stifle its progress.
Indeed we should remember that Burberry is not even pulling out of Yorkshire, saying that it still may open a factory in Leeds, or perhaps simply revamping its current operations in the region.
The attitude the city must have from this point is that Burberry’s decision not to be part of this exciting new chapter in Leeds’s history, at least in the short term, is its loss, not ours.