A top chef wants to open a restaurant inside this old railway lifting tower in Leeds

The old lifting tower at Wellington Place
The old lifting tower at Wellington Place
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An eminent chef is hoping to convert one of Leeds' quirkiest historic structures into a bistro.

Gary Usher runs Elite Bistros of the World, and is the man behind trendy venues such as Kala in Manchester and Wreckfish in Liverpool.

The old wagon hoist seen during Leeds Central Station's operational years

The old wagon hoist seen during Leeds Central Station's operational years

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He's now announced on Instagram that he wants to turn the Grade II-listed railway lifting tower in Wellington Place into a business called Wagon House Bistro.

The project is believed to be in the early stages with a planned opening date in 2020. Although he has the support of the council and site owners MEPC, planners would have to establish whether converting the Victorian structure would be feasible.

Usher is known for using crowdfunding to get his new restaurants off the ground, so may employ the same tactics to finance his Leeds venture.

His first venue, Sticky Walnut in Chester, opened in 2011, and his first Kickstarter campaign was to open Burnt Truffle in the Wirral in 2015 - he managed to raise £100,000. Backers pledged a further £60,000 to Hispi in Manchester's chic suburb of Didsbury, and in 2017 over 1,500 supporters raised £200,000 towards Wreckfish in Liverpool. Kala in Manchester city centre was also crowdfunded.

Usher, 37, is a former pub chef who has built up his empire from scratch and has been described as 'the restaurant king of the north-west'. He is known for his outspoken views and has ruled out expanding into London.

The lifting tower - also known as a wagon hoist - was part of Leeds Central Station, a now-demolished railway station which once stood on the site of the Wellington Place office development.

It opened in 1854, replacing an older terminus at Wellington Street, and closed in 1967 when all of the local lines were re-routed into the present-day Leeds Station.

The platforms were above street level, meaning the lifting tower was required to hoist wagons from the high-level access viaduct - which is also still standing - to the goods yard below using steam power and giant chains.

It was only narrowly saved from demolition and its 'twin' tower was knocked down before preservation campaigners intervened. An industrial accident halted clearance work at the site, allowing the building to be granted a reprieve before it resumed.

The site later became a Royal Mail sorting office and was originally meant to be the location of the planned 560ft Lumiere skyscraper, which was never built.

It's now the focal point of Wellington Place and is surrounded by a public square, cafes, bars and offices.

However, Leeds Civic Trust director Martin Hamilton said they would only support Gary's plans if they do not involve major alterations to the character of the 19th-century structure.

"It's a listed building that had a very specific use. When the Wellington Place scheme was first developed, the tower as intended as a kind of 'folly', a focal point from a sculptural point of view. I struggle to see how it could be converted into a restaurant while retaining its basic character and structure. It would need to be altered significantly and that would threaten the integrity of the building.

"In this case we wouldn't consider the tower to be 'at risk' because it is maintained by MEPC. We would have to think very carefully about it. It doesn't look large internally, so it would need major alterations and extensions to operate as a restaurant. I don't see how it would work while remaining respectful of the original form, shape and use.

"It's a nice idea if it didn't affect the basic structure. It's in good order, performing a function - to mess about with that risks losing what it was."

MEPC said they were unable to confirm whether they had received a formal approach from Gary Usher.