Residents get a say on plans to rejuvenate city shopping street

plans to rejuvenate Kirkgate – the oldest street in Leeds – are to be debated by residents shortly in a major public consultation exercise.

Central to the plans to breathe new life into the area is the redevelopment of the historic First White Cloth Hall, which celebrates its 300th birthday on April 22.

To mark the anniversary public consultation will start online that day to give people and local businesses the chance to view and comment on the draft proposals.

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Face-to-face consultation with traders, owners and shoppers takes place from April 26 to May 17.

The council is working with the Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage and private property owners to achieve major improvements to the First White Cloth Hall and other properties along Lower Kirkgate in need of repair, refurbishment or restoration.

It is hoped that the hall, built in 1711 and now a Grade II* listed building, will be restored and many of the 19th Century properties along the street brought back to their former glory. Work could start on the £2.6m scheme as soon as the summer of 2013.

First White Cloth Hall is the oldest surviving cloth hall in Yorkshire and played a key part in transforming Leeds into a centre for international trade.

The city prospered around the growth of what began as a cottage industry hosted in a makeshift open market.

The west wing of the hall had to be demolished earlier this year due to the collapse of the building next door.

If the redevelopment plans go ahead, it is hoped the hall’s future place in the city could be secured for another 300 years.

The redevelopment of this site could potentially lead to the creation of a base for small retailers, linking in with Leeds Kirkgate Market and the recently refurbished Corn Exchange.

Coun Keith Wakefield, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “This is a great chance for the people of Leeds to have their say about protecting the future of the oldest street in the city.

“Generation after generation of local people have walked down, shopped and done business in this very street at the heart of our city.

“The First White Cloth Hall is a very important part of the history of Leeds and I’m delighted at plans for its restoration.

“With the completion of the Arena and the Trinity Quarter, 2013 will be an exciting year in Leeds city centre. The rejuvenation of Kirkgate is a further exciting development that should help to create jobs and training opportunities for local people.”

First White Cloth Hall is the oldest surviving cloth hall in Yorkshire and encapsulates the story of Leeds’s glorious past.

Completed in 1711, the Grade II* building was central in transforming a cottage industry into a global business, establishing Leeds as a centre for trade.

Prior to its opening, deals were done in a makeshift open market on a bridge over the River Aire where traders would meet to buy and sell their wares.

After rivals in Wakefield opened a covered trading hall, Leeds merchants set to work on their own hall.

The Hall grew to become the centre of the wool and cloth trade and represents an important chapter in Leeds’ history, playing its part in the rise of the city’s wealth and prosperity.

Three documents have been produced which are related to the development of the Kirkgate area, they will be made available on line and in hard copy from April 22.

These are:

Draft Lower Kirkgate Planning Statement, which acts as a guide for future physical development of the area;

Draft Kirkgate Character Area Management Plan;

Draft Kirkgate Conservation Area Appraisal and Management Plan, which together identify why the area is historically important and set out how its historic fabric should be looked after in years to come.