Footfall goes up as Trinity opens, but so do the ‘To Let’ signs

Empty Shops in Leeds City Centre.Empty Shops in Leeds City Centre.
Empty Shops in Leeds City Centre.
The first major retail scheme in Yorkshire in years has drawn 4m visitors in just eight weeks. But at what cost to existing high streets? Neil Hudson reports.

Gerald Jennings, the northern director of Land Securities which owns and built Trinity Leeds, is unperturbed when it’s pointed out to him that some of the city’s streets have been leeched of stores since his retail and leisure scheme arrived.

Retailers like Next, River Island and La Senza have all shipped out and moved into the 1m sq ft development. Then there are smaller, independent retailers like Hip and Made in Leeds.

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All these departures have left gaps in the high street and, as every retailer worth their salt will tell you, that does nothing for consumer confidence.

It’s a concern shared by more than just retailers, other leading civic figures feel it too.

The Rev Canon Tony Bundock, Rector of Leeds, said: “It’s a real concern but it’s still early days. The other thing you have to consider is we are still in very difficult economic times. Of course, the pressures on the retail world in general, including the ever increasing number of people who are shopping online, continue. People only have a certain amount of money to spend and if they spend it in one place, they won’t spend it in another. The hope is that as the economy recovers, over time, these areas with voids will disappear.”

Two months after the opening of Trinity, that is all they are: hopes.

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When I broach the topic of the impact Trinity may have had on the rest of Leeds – in terms of being a magnet for top name retailers who have since vacated their old premises – Gerald Jennings is keen to discuss the issue.

“It’s an interesting subject and I think there needs to be more debate about the issue,” he says. “Clearly, when you develop something in the city centre, in particular something of a substantial nature as we have with Trinity, the expectation is that there would be this kind of change in the short term.

“We’ve seen the same thing in other city centres where we have developed projects, including Cardiff, Bristol and Sunderland.

“Yes, in the short term it means 
a number of retailers moving 
into the new space that has 
been created, but we were mindful of this and, personally, I don’t see it as a bad thing in the long run.

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“We certainly weren’t blasé about the effect Trinity would have, but you might want to ask how have we responded to that...”


“We’ve worked closely with Leeds City Council in terms of developing what role the centre can play,” said Jennings. “We do not own the properties which have been vacated but there are a number of ways in which we can help them, the main one being that we are clearly attracting more people to the city centre.

“There are a number of properties, among them the old Square on the Lane pub next to Trinity, which have been done up or are being done up. This is a clear sign that people sense the increased footfall and are eager to be part of it.”

There is evidence of this, both in terms of retail and leisure. On the adjacent Commercial Street Clarks shoe shop and the Halifax bank have both given their units a serious facelift, while on Boar Lane, venues like Bar 1871 have suddenly invested in major makeovers.

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“The other thing which I think is significant,” said Jennings. “Is that we’ve extended the business operating hours by offering activities on an evening, which creates even more opportunities for retailers.”

But will that fill the empty units left behind?

“There’s a reason why all those stores, like Next, like River Island, like Top Shop moved into Trinity,” he insists. “And that wasn’t because they were doing bad business where they were in Leeds, it’s because they thought they could do better business in Trinity.

“What we see happening at the moment is a transition where some retailers have moved into Trinity and left their shops, but those shops will be filled by other retailers coming to Leeds.”

Jennings remains resolutely upbeat, even in the face of growing concerns about the high street holes left behind as a result of Trinity Leeds.

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But even the Rev Canon Bundock is partly positive: “One thing which is good is Trinity church, which obviously lends its name to the centre, is now much more prominent and we are seeing more people using it. It’s the base for our Street Angels service and there has been a Chekhov play just performed there. As a result, it has really come alive since Trinity opened. So, from that point of view, it’s been very positive.”