Developer seeks big corporate name for office plan

OVER the centuries, the site of Kirkstall Forge in Leeds has been used by monks and then manufacturers supplying vehicles to boost Britain's war effort.

Soon it could be a workplace for 2,500 people and a home for families with children.

Charles Johnson, the development manager for Commercial Estates Group, which is developing Kirkstall Forge, is confident the site will have its own railway station by 2012, which will help to reduce the crippling congestion on West Yorkshire's roads.

Mr Johnson said plans to develop the railway scheme remained on track despite the uncertainty caused by looming public spending cuts.

CEG has created a masterplan for the historic site, which is close to Kirkstall Abbey, in Leeds.

It is one of the oldest industrial sites in Britain, and once work starts, it will be one of the largest brownfield mixed-use schemes in West Yorkshire.

Mr Johnson said: "It's a massive project in terms of jobs and the economy of Leeds. It's going to deliver something in the region of 2,500 permanent jobs, plus a large number of temporary construction jobs as well."

The earliest commercial activity on the site was a corn mill, which was founded by monks from the nearby abbey in the 12th century. Records suggest that iron production started at Kirkstall Forge in the 1580s.

During the 19th century, the forge provided railway wheels, axles and wagons. It expanded dramatically during the 20th century. During the Second World War, it had to be camouflaged to stop it being targeted by German bombers. Gun emplacements were also cut into the boundary wall in 1940.

The site has been empty since 2003, when the then owners – The Dana Corporation from Ohio in the US – shifted production to India and Spain. In 2007, Commercial Estates Group received planning permission for the redevelopment of the 56-acre site.

Mr Johnson said work could begin once a pre-let had been achieved for the office element of the scheme.

He added: "The site has got a rich history and we're trying to make the most of it. We're looking for some very large corporates to move in. In terms of the residential units, we're trying to make as many of them three or four bedroom as possible. We're trying to deliver an integrated community. You need a mix of unit types to have that proper community feel."

The proposals include a gym, creche, and a hotel with around 40 to 50 beds.

Mr Johnson said the "railway station element is going very well" and he was working with Metro, the county's passenger transport authority, Network Rail and Northern Rail to bring it to fruition. Altogether, CEG has agreed to provide 4m towards the station.

Metro is seeking approval from the Department of Transport for 20m of Government funding for new stations at Kirkstall Forge and Apperley Bridge, in Bradford.

Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves has tabled Parliamentary Questions about the fate of the Kirkstall railway station scheme to Transport Secretary Phil Hammond. The new coalition Government recently announced a 683m cut to the Department of Transport, including a 309m reduction in grants the DFT hands out to local authorities.

She said yesterday: "John Battle (the former Leeds West MP) and I have been campaigning for years to bring a new train station to Kirkstall Forge.

"It is an integral part of an exciting new development in the area, which includes 1,000 family homes, new office space and the promise of local jobs."

On line for a new beginning

Kirkstall Forge was a major industrial site for more than 400 years.

During the 19th century, it provided railway wheels, axles and complete wagons.

The last axle was manufactured in December 2002, and in March 2003 all remaining plant and machinery was auctioned off. At the time of the closure, around 300 people were employed on the site.

Charles Johnson of developers Commercial Estates Group (CEG) said the mixed-use Kirkstall Forge scheme would be a six-minute journey from Leeds once the railway station was completed, hopefully, in 2012.