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City centre building boom is about to begin

Jonathan Morgan. Pic by  Barnaby Aldrick
Jonathan Morgan. Pic by Barnaby Aldrick
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Jonathn Morgan, managing director, Morgans City Living, Leeds, www.cityliving.co.uk

Described to me recently as a city that is frightened of appearing too big for its boots, Leeds is finally beginning to realise that its destiny is in its own hands. At the recent launch of the city’s Inclusive Growth Strategy, leaders from business, the city and the Third Sector came together to debate and define what makes Leeds a special city and how we might ensure that our future economic success benefits everyone.

The city centre has a key role to play and the value that a dynamic and well-managed environment can bring to a city’s wider success should not be underestimated.

The residential market here has fallen way behind where it should be over the last decade and the lack of new supply means we have lost a generation of renters who have been unable to find accommodation. This tide is about to turn and the power of the link between jobs and aspirational housing will come to the fore. This dynamic was evident to me on a trip to Manchester, where the city centre wagon is well and truly rolling. The fact that we don’t have two premiership football clubs or a truly international airport should not dampen our spirits or our determination to make Leeds a genuinely special city, but the pressure is on to make sure that we capture the opportunity now.

Last years’ report by Cambridge Econometrics and Cambridge Economic Partners suggested that around 47,000 new jobs could be created in the city centre by 2025 and even if this is ambitious, it is a huge number.

We must focus on providing housing for these new workers, ensure that they are sufficiently skilled and continue to improve our transport networks so that new jobs are within reach.

There is huge latent demand for city centre housing in Leeds and there are signs that we are on the verge of a period of significant activity. Major capital projects are in evidence, such as the East Leeds Orbital Road; the Aire Valley Enterprise Zone; the Nexus building at Leeds University; South Bank, which could double the size of the city centre, and a new low carbon district Heating system for parts of East Leeds, along with three new outlying railway stations. The growth in digital, medi-tech and Knowledge Intensive Businesses is well-documented and this will be served by the growing cohort of students, which currently numbers 72,000.

It is evident from a number of projects I am supporting that the bar has been raised around design and material quality in the residential world and we seem certain to avoid the mistakes of the buy-to-let boom as developers recognise that buyers are hungry for a better experience at all market levels. Schemes such as SOYO by Caddick, The Ironworks by Igloo, Calls Water by CDP and The Climate Innovation District by Citu are evidence of what is to come and we expect that all of these schemes will come to market in the next six-12 months, providing much needed supply to a city that has been starved for a decade.

Evidence from the Manchester city centre market, which Leeds tends to follow in trend if not quantum, would suggest that there will be a significant number of institutional build-to-rent developments on site over the next few years and that these we will be complemented by schemes aimed at owner-occupiers.

Leeds is a the heart of a region with a £74bn economy and it’s time for us to step up, be bold, aim high and ensure that we fulfil our potential as a genuinely meaningful European city.