West Yorkshire Investment Zone opportunity must be seized - here's how: Vicky Casey

News of an £80million fund and tax relief for a West Yorkshire Investment Zone is a fantastic catalyst for development and I believe we should all be excited about the region becoming a globally competitive centre for innovation. Now is the time for us to pull up our bootstraps and start building.

With a booming life sciences industry leading the way, investment in R&D infrastructure is already delivering positive socio-economic benefits to the north and we can see a boost in social mobility, through attraction of talent and cultural changes in Liverpool’s Knowledge Quarter and Manchester’s Oxford Road Corridor.

These are areas of activity, creativity and modern discovery and with this money now available, we should be looking at them as exemplars of city regions that bring together science, health, technology, culture and education.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Leeds city region has a rich history of textile heritage and ground-breaking technologies.

Vicky Casey shares her expert insightVicky Casey shares her expert insight
Vicky Casey shares her expert insight

Given that innovation thrives on unexpected collaboration, how can we maximise potential connections between the arts and science sectors to stimulate invention steeped in local expertise? How can we celebrate our talent and differentiate the northern science clusters to provide unique melting pots? This will not happen via siloed opportunities in out-of-town pockets but via a connected strategy that weaves funding into a wider picture of growth.

Good design, placemaking and planning will be crucial. By setting out a clear and flexible plan cognisant of the vital role anchor institutions play, we can provide stronger signals to investors, and help ensure the right quality of development with good public realm, green infrastructure and genuinely impactful buildings.

At this point, we can start to address and analyse the opportunity to link innovation assets in major cities. And we know there is already work being carried out to define the parameters of Leeds’s own ‘Innovation Arc’ alongside many developers trying to do great things for the city such as Bruntwood, CEG & The Guinness Partnership.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

How can this investment help them directly or indirectly to deliver their visions for housing, commercial, lab space and start up incubators at pace? How do these plans knit into the Innovation Arc and Investment Zone opportunity? There needs to be a connected city approach alongside a strategic Northern approach where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

We are stronger together - as demonstrated by the Channel 4 success from the Bradford and Leeds collaboration. We need a shared vision that connects talent East to West from Leeds to Liverpool so that the North rivals the golden triangle of London, Cambridge and Oxford. Of course, this also needs improved transport infrastructure.

Our Investment Zones also have to be designed to be inclusive, diverse, healthy and rooted in our Yorkshire identity. As architects, we have the power and responsibility to always make things better - and that means better for everyone. Utilising an overlap between culture, creativity and innovation will ensure that these zones are visible and accessible to all. They need to include a mix of core and supporting uses with input from anchor institutions like Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, University of Leeds, and Leeds City Council and new, small to medium enterprises, creating an environment where ideas can thrive.

Some questions remain but with the right level of urban design approach and allocation of funding, we will create something truly great for Leeds, for the region and for the whole of the UK.

Vicky Casey is Studio Lead for BDP in Leeds