ONE thousand jobs could be created by 2018 on the site of a giant Yorkshire factory which has been empty for almost 30 years.
When Tower Works closed in 1981, there were fears that the site at the heart of Leeds could become a crumbling eyesore.
The works, which is famous for its soaring Italianate towers, is enjoying a new lease of life as a home for fast growing firms in the digital and creative sectors, and developers hope it could soon become a place to live.
Tower Works were saved by the former regional development agency Yorkshire Forward, which was scrapped earlier this year as part of the coalition Government’s austerity measures.
According to the agents promoting the scheme, large parts of the site would have been demolished without support from the taxpayer. Altogether, Yorkshire Forward invested £6.7m into the project. The site is now owned by the Government’s Homes and Communities Agency (HCA).
The first phase of development – which includes 24 commercial units – was completed earlier this year. It is already 70 per cent occupied, and around 70 people work on the site. There is planning permission for shops and a restaurant at Tower Works.
According to managing agent Toby Hyam, the managing director of Manchester-based Creative Space Management, there is capacity on the site to accommodate 1,000 people. He said the pace of development depended on private sector investment, but he hoped to achieve this landmark within five or six years. In its heyday, Tower Works employed around 700 people.
Mr Hyam added: “Tower Works is making an important contribution to the growing critical mass of technology and creative businesses in the area. The opening of this phase marks a significant step forward, at a time when many cities in Europe have seen very little new investment or growth. This is an important vote of confidence in Leeds as a location for high growth businesses, who can attract and retain skilled staff, despite the challenging economic conditions.”
Michael Birdsall, the Leeds-based senior development manager at HCA, said: “This site is a key gateway, so it had to be developed properly. Following the purchase of the site by Yorkshire Forward in 2005, ISIS Waterside Regeneration were selected as the preferred developer. They withdrew in 2008 (due to the economic slump) and the owners then obtained planning permission for the ISIS scheme.” Consent was granted for 138 apartments and 160,000 sq ft of commercial space on the site.
Mr Birdsall added: “The first phase was the most risky part of the development, because the buildings were so unsafe that access into the main listed building was very limited, due to the large amount of scaffolding that was providing structural support.
“HCA are now looking for developers to develop the rest of the site. We’re moving to the second phase, and I would like to think there could be people living here by 2016. It’s particularly attractive to the private rented sector, because you are five minutes’ walk from the station and London can be reached on the train in two and a half hours.”
Mr Hyam added: “Tower Works would have been sterile without public sector support. Consent was granted for the first phase of this commercial development, and the first business moved in during May. Ten of the 15 businesses that are currently on the site moved in within the first week. They include creative, digital and technical businesses.”
He said Tower Works could attract spin-outs from local universities, and also companies that had been based in the Round Foundry Media Centre in nearby Holbeck, which is another HCA economic asset. Guests at tomorrow’s official opening of Tower Works are expected to include Richard Armstrong, who was the site’s last general manager and engineer.
Mr Hyam said: “Harding Rhodes, who were the last occupiers of the site, sold to every continent and employed a lot of Sikh engineers who had come from northern India, which reflects the multicultural history of Leeds.”