Leeds is a city that is seriously starting to flex its economic muscle. The unofficial capital of West Yorkshire basked in the publicity bonanza of the Tour de France’s Grand Depart recently, and for all the fanfare surrounding what was essentially just a French flirtation, the city is building up to seriously make the most of the economic upturn.
Well placed to capitalise on political moves aimed at boosting the economic potential of Britain’s regions, Leeds – along with the wider area which it has come to dominate – is uniquely primed to capitalise on the wider economic upturn. The Leeds City Region, which takes in Bradford, York, Wakefield, Castleford and Harrogate, boasts a wealth and diversity of resources that have stood the area in good stead historically and which constitute a brimming potential for future growth.
Leeds survived the downturn better than most, boasting 39% growth over the period 2002-2012. Strong financial, manufacturing and digital sectors, three thriving universities and a location at the hub of the UK’s road and rail networks have combined to insulate the city against the worst of the recent downturn. For example, Leeds’ heavy investment in digital infrastructure during the 1990s means that it is now a major digital hub – as much as 33% of the UK’s internet traffic is streamed through the city. But on the back of that capacity the city is now poised to exploit the significant turn to the regions being shown by politicians of both main parties.
Whether it is Chancellor George Osborne arguing for an extension of the high speed rail link to connect Leeds with Manchester – the other great commercial powerhouse of the north – or the recent Labour Party report that signalled a £30 billion redistribution of revenues from Whitehall to regional authorities, Leeds is a city in prime position to make the most of the political as well as the economic demands to steer activity away from the capital.
The 2014 Centre for Cities reports shows the Leeds regional economy was worth £55 billion in 2013, significantly outstripping Manchester and, to put this in a wider context, greater than the whole of Wales. Leeds is currently amongst the top ten UK cities for private sector start-ups and private sector job creation. Those figures all look set to rise.
Leeds’ move towards super-city status has been signalled by several key flagship developments recently. The First Direct Arena which hosted last year’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards, KPMG’s new regional headquarters at Sovereign Square and the spectacular Trinity Leeds Shopping Centre – the only major UK shopping centre to open in 2013 – are all in their different ways testament to the region’s increasing cultural and economic confidence. More practically, large scale redevelopment of much brown-site land on the periphery of the city means that there are the physical as well as the digital and transport infrastructures in place to support a radical upturn in economic activity.
Developers Goodman UK are amongst those who exemplify Leeds’ burgeoning success. Their Leeds Valley Park development was recently acknowledged as Property Week’s “Best overall development outside central London” and its state-of-the art facilities are attracting precisely the sort of established, internationally recognised and growing businesses the city needs to sustain its momentum. Goodman office spaces in Leeds have already been taken up by such internationally respected heavyweights such as Detica, Arla Foods, Capita, The Lowell Group and Alphabet – all reflective of a pattern of inward investment and job creation that extends right across the region.
The growing presence of such firms represents part of a virtuous cycle of regeneration that is anticipated to increasingly make Leeds not just the capital of West Yorkshire but, as the locals would have it, the capital of the north as well.