Victoria Gate Leeds – is Leeds becoming a shopping and food mecca?

If we people of Leeds, think back 3 to 5 years ago, we can remember that our home was once a place that certainly had great clubs, bars, a decent smattering of restaurants and the odd high market shopping experience; such as Harvey Nicholls, the Victoria Quarter and a few boutique shops dotted around the various and charming Victorian arcades.

Victoria Gate March 3rd 2016

Victoria Gate

Fast forward only a few years and we have seen a vast change to our city.  This all quickly escalated almost immediately after the worst recession in decades.  Areas once deemed to be poor, deprived and no go areas, for those that craved a decent meal or a worthy shopping experience, continue to get a major facelift.   A prime example is the Trinity shopping precinct, that was once a walk of faith, down the side of Topshop, on Briggate, through to Albion Place.  Back then, the question some asked, was…”will I be mugged if I take this short cut, it is past 8 pm”?  

If the many shops, cocktail bars and cool cinema within Trinity is not your thing, as it does seem to cater for the younger market (on the whole) then the new Victoria Gate complex; inclusive of John Lewis and other luxury branded shops, should hit the spot http://www.victoriagate.co.uk/about/about-victoria-gate/ 

They are now well into construction and look to be a fine inclusion to the city.  The architecture of the buildings is very different and will be in keeping with the aesthetic of the area and should attract the affluent to part with their cash.   This area will position Leeds as the Northern Mecca of the weekend jaunt, where people will enjoy top nosh, cocktails and an upmarket shopping experience.  Weekend trips to Leeds perhaps weren’t a common occurrence only 10 years ago, we’d simply be that city that people pointed at from their cars, as they scuttled past on the M621.  “Oh look there is that city that once had a great football team, weren’t they in the Champions league only last year”.  They then headed to York/Harrogate/the Dales or maybe even passed through as they travelled to the Lakes.  

You now only have to visit the city on a weekend to see how incredibly busy it has become.  Parking continues to be an issue (please sort this out Leeds CC).  Walking into a restaurant asking for immediate availability, isn’t a given and more often than not requires a wait.  Bars are crammed full of people with money to spend and a plethora of Cocktails to enjoy.  The vibe is good and the hustle and bustle has certainly come back to Leeds.  The shops are packed and the buskers seem to be a plenty.  Even the guy with the obscure, dancing, red devil puppet must agree, these will be his best, of the 20 or so years he has spent on the streets of Leeds.

The most positive aspect in all of this, is the continued development of the deprived areas.  For years and years Briggate and off shoots of this main drag in Leeds, has been the epicentre of footfall traffic and shopping activity.  Now, with EVEN Regent street getting the go ahead for new development and the West Yorkshire Playhouse area, on the very door step of the Victoria gate complex, we should see a further extension of these areas further and further out from the centre.  What is a certainty is the continued investment/development of the Holbeck Urban Village with businesses looking to build new offices here due to it’s great location to the M62/M1 link roads. 

I am convinced, that I will stand in disbelief in ten years time, as I look at the city that has sprawled itself from East to West and North to South.  I’ll smile a contented smile, as I look out and hardly recognise the city I grew up in. This would worry some and have them banging on about how Leeds was better back then.  

It’s nice to be nostalgic and hark on to days gone by but this new Leeds, developed in the right way could be a big winner in the national stakes for popularity.  Times change and we either act or get left behind.  It seems the city is wanting to act and grow. Outside investment has identified the city has a base for their brands and massive growth potential.  Further job opportunities will come, families will feel the benefit of the growth as companies wishing to save by building here and recruiting their staff will continue to rise. Why go to London where any and all land is extortionately priced and recruitment is twice the cost?

The worrying question for me, within the next 10-15 years is, will I one day, walk through the streets of Leeds and become completely lost.  Will I stop, look around and have to think long and hard about where I am.  Will I be that old(er) bloke that asks for assistance in an embarrassed, I’m getting old kind of way.  Perhaps I’ll revert to Google maps (if I can work my phone confidently in the future) As I did when trying to navigate Trinity for the first time and ended up walking around in a circle for 1/2 mile and until I got my bearings.    

Whats happening gives the city bragging rights against it’s main rival Manchester (I’ll just pause for a second, as I wash my mouth out after uttering that awful word beginning with M).  Investment and change and positive development is great for the city.  We all agree its long overdue.  If you take a walk around Leeds and just take the time to look up once in a while, you can enjoy the buildings of yesteryear and will notice the huge investment it once enjoyed.  The incredible buildings that were built, the architecture that was crafted, with no expense spared or corners cut for convenience.  Of course the shop facades of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s ruined the buildings, certainly at shopfront level.  But simply look up once in a while and you can see what a charming place it once was.  The new developments (Trinity aside) are trying to be in keeping with days gone by…let’s watch this space to see if this flavour of build quality continues. 

Leeds arch

All we need now is the backing of the government. A government that seems hell bent on a North / South divide. We need investment in infrastructure, that supports this incredible growth (focusing heavily on flood defences and rail/road investment).  All this extra traffic/people walking the streets must get in and out somehow!  Additionally we must never witness the sorry events of only 2-3 months ago, when the water cascaded onto our streets leaving families and businesses destitute.

On a final and positive note. These are interesting times, for a hard working city sitting just off the M1.  Make no mistake, the bright lights and big city feel is coming to Leeds….this could get interesting.