Time to end the doom and gloom and talk up exciting economic potential of Leeds: Eamon Fox

It has become increasingly fashionable to talk down the UK economy, bemoan the lack of growth and productivity and to look back in envy and despair at the golden days of the early Noughties.

If we are not careful, this will become a self-fulfilling prophecy and we will be engulfed in a vicious downwards spiral of financial gloom. Yes, these are challenging times, with the global pandemic and the war in Ukraine putting pressure on countries across the world, but I believe it’s time to talk up our economic potential rather than decry it.

This is particularly true when it comes to the city of Leeds. Our city is an economic powerhouse, boasting the third-largest concentration of high-growth companies in the UK outside London. This is testament, in part, to the region’s thriving tech landscape, which has seen a 17 per cent increase in jobs across digital creative, sport, and culture in the past 12 months.

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The city provides access to a diverse and skilled workforce and existing extensive eco-system for investors. In 2022, for example, the Leeds tech sector saw £288 million in venture capital investment. This community is strengthened by Leeds Digital Festival, the UK’s largest open platform tech event and the biggest digital festival outside London, which provides a platform for exposure and engagement to businesses.

Leeds is already an economic powerhouse, argues Eamon FoxLeeds is already an economic powerhouse, argues Eamon Fox
Leeds is already an economic powerhouse, argues Eamon Fox

Leeds has recognised talent and research strengths. The largest centre for finance and professional services outside London and the second city in the UK for start-up businesses,

Leeds has also seen the biggest jobs growth in knowledge-intensive businesses of all UK cities since 2010. This optimistic picture is underpinned by the latest EY Regional Economic Forecast for the economy in Yorkshire and the Humber, which predicts that the city will be well-placed to benefit from and contribute to the UK’s return to prosperity over the next few years, as it drives economic growth in the North and across the country.

Leeds’s potential is also underlined by Knight Frank’s brand-new UK Cities report, which revealed that the city’s headline office rents had broken all records at £38 per sq ft, rising by six per cent over the past 12 months. Notably, prime office rents have risen by 19 per cent since the onset of the Covid pandemic, the second largest increase seen across the Big Six regional cities.

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Occupier demand in 2023 was underpinned by the Finance, Banking and Insurance and Professional Services sectors, accounting for 30 per cent and 28 per cent of total take-up respectively. Rents are expected to reach £40 per sq ft by the end of the year 2024.

It is also important to remember that the education sector is playing a significant part in the city’s success story. Developers Kinrise, backed by American investors Karrev recently completed the lease of 1 Trevelyan Square in Leeds to Leeds Trinity University (LTU).

Leeds Trinity will now open its brand-new city centre campus in Boar Lane later this year for the 2024-2025 academic year.

So let’s celebrate this news and put an end to all this doom and gloom. Going forward, it is critical that the public and private sectors collaborate to maximise opportunities. Leaders and businesses in the north should prioritise building skills and capabilities that will be in demand across high-growth sectors, while making the most of our region’s fundamental strengths and our industrial heritage.

Eamon Fox is partner and head of development at the Leeds office of global property consultancy Knight Frank

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