Talks over the creation of a Tech City reach crucial stage

Clarence Dock, Leeds. Picture by Simon Hulme
Clarence Dock, Leeds. Picture by Simon Hulme
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PLANS to create a Tech City of the North are moving forward as negotiations reach a critical stage.

PLANS to create a Tech City of the North are moving forward as negotiations reach a critical stage.

It is understood that key stakeholders, including Leeds and Partners, are thrashing out a business agreement which would see the launch of new offices for digital and creative industries at New Dock in Leeds.

A planning application for the first element of the tech hub is about to be submitted to Leeds City Council.

The creation of a new digital complex is part of plans to build a “super cluster” of Tech Cities in Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester to re-create the success of Tech City in the Shoreditch area of London, which was launched in 2010 and has seen the number of businesses in the area grow to more than 1,000.

The move is aimed at revitalising the struggling Clarence Dock area but is also part of a wider vision which will extend across the city centre, particularly along the South Bank area.

The £250m waterfront site was bought by property company Allied London at the start of 2012 and re-branded as New Dock.

It is understood a new company has been set up to drive the plans forward.

A spokeswoman from Leeds and Partners confirmed it was working with Allied London and other stakeholders on plans.

She said: “Creating a tech and innovation site is a key part of our innovation strategy and vision for the city as well as for attracting inward investment.”

Lee Strafford, one of Yorkshire’s leading tech entrepreneurs, is spearheading plans for the northern tech cities. He said : “Shoreditch works because it is commercially driven.”

He added: “The reality is that where there is a critical mass of entrepreneurs and digital and creative people, you can create a Tech City-like cluster.

“What is without question is the need to retain this talent in the North. The question isn’t whether can it happen; the question is how big can it be? It is hugely important to create that same model up here.”

Mr Strafford, former Sheffield Wednesday chairman and co-founder of Sheffield-based internet service provider Plusnet, described current negotiations between key stakeholders at New Dock as “sensitive” and declined to give further details about the plans for the site.

“We need to create the right cluster around the hub and we are right in the middle of that at the moment. There are various stakeholders and we have got to get it right,” he said.

“We want to create a super cluster of cities to stand on equal terms with London. Each hub will be locally-controlled. We want to re-create exactly what happened in Shoreditch.”

Leeds City Council is keen to build on the city’s technological expertise.

Speaking at Leeds Metropolitan University’s Guest Lecture series, Leeds City Council chief executive Tom Riordan said: “We have a massively untapped asset in our city with the number of micro-businesses in our city in the creative sector.”

He added: “There are places like Duke Studios and New Dock where there are very interesting ideas about how we can capitalise on the city’s digital and technology plans.”

Allied London’s intentions for New Dock were outlined in a report to a Leeds City Council plans panel last May.

The report said key elements of the firm’s blueprint for the site include the creation of new offices for digital and creative industries, the opening of gallery and exhibition facilities; and using the site’s water space for “floating retail, food, drink and office premises”.

The report also said the potential of Leeds Dam Island as a home for food and drink outlets was being explored.

New Dock was dealt a major blow with the closure of its Alea casino last year, with the loss of 99 jobs and the closure of its two restaurants.

The site has also struggled to live up to its pre-launch hype as one of the new jewels in Leeds’s retail crown.

Its glitzy shops were officially opened with a huge fanfare by television presenter Gok Wan towards the end of 2008.

But in 2012 it was confirmed that around half of its 35 shop units had never been occupied.

Allied London is understood to have paid about £1.5m for the lease on the site when it was bought from its previous owner, property group Lend Lease.

The company is best known for developing Manchester’s Spinningfields commercial and retail district.

The dock originally opened in the 1830s for the transportation of goods and commodities to and from Leeds city centre, using the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and the Aire and Calder Navigation.

The area underwent steady decline through the 20th century.