Calls to take action to save one of Leeds' most historic buildings

Regeneration chiefs are set to take action to secure the future of one of Yorkshire's oldest surviving cloth markets.

White Cloth Hall, Kirkgate, Leeds.
White Cloth Hall, Kirkgate, Leeds.

The Grade II listed First White Cloth Hall, in Leeds, is the cornerstone of a landmark scheme to restore the city’s oldest street to its former glory.

But the derelict hall has been on the Heritage at Risk Register since 1999 because of its poor condition.

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In a bid to secure its future Leeds City Council’s executive board will be asked to approve measures to purchase the freehold on the site to allow plans to revitalise the site to progress.

They want the building to become part of the ambitious Lower Kirkgate Townscape Heritage Initiative, which aims to transform and restore the historic street.

The council has been in negotiation with the owners for several years to secure the building’s future and successfully applied for a £1.5m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to help fund vital repairs.

Councillor Richard Lewis, Leeds City Council’s executive member for regeneration, transport and planning, warned the window of opportunity to transform the building is “growing ever smaller” in a bid to secure it for future generations.

He said: “The First White Cloth Hall is a hugely important part of our city’s heritage which we are determined to see repaired, revitalised and brought back into use as soon as we can.

“The window of opportunity to accomplish that is growing ever smaller and it is imperative that we act now if we are to secure the site for future generations.”

As well as acquiring the freehold for the site, the executive board will also be asked next week to approve bringing together a multi-disciplinary design team to draw up proposals for the refurbishment.

The First White Cloth Hall was built in 1711 and played an important role in Leeds becoming the centre of the county’s textile trade.

It suffered a structural failure in 2010 and was partially demolished.

The hall’s refurbishment is the central project in the Townscape Heritage Initiative, which aims to protect and restore the historic character of a number of other buildings in the Lower Kirkgate area.

A total of £1.5m has been awarded to the project from the HLF, which will be matched with £668k public funding.

This, along with £894,000 of potential private funding, could bring the total investment to an estimated £2.6m and create up to 80 new jobs.

The initiative has already seen 92 Kirkgate, a former 18th Century cloth merchant’s house, transformed into a traditional Yorkshire café.

Grants are also being pursued for a number of other buildings in the area.

Coun Lewis added: “We’ve made some really important strides over the past year in our long term plan to regenerate the Lower Kirkgate.

“We’re keen to keep up the momentum.

“This area is part of the bedrock of Leeds’s heritage but it has been neglected for far too long.

“It is becoming increasingly vulnerable.

“Taking decisive action now puts us in a stronger position to encourage the investment needed to help Lower Kirkgate achieve its potential to be a thriving, contemporary part of Leeds.”