Heritage takes centre stage in rebirth of much-loved Leeds street

A new era for New Briggate is dawning as this historic Leeds street gets the love, care, attention and investment that will help ensure its future is every bit as bright as its past.

A range of co-ordinated investments designed to make the character-filled and culturally-rich area even better for visitors, residents and businesses are now having a positive impact, contributing to the wider ongoing transformation of the city centre.

Highway infrastructure improvements – made possible by the permanent re-routing of buses to Vicar Lane as part of the £173.5m Leeds Public Transport Investment Programme (LPTIP) – were finished over the spring, with a new traffic-free space being created through the pedestrianisation of the lower end of New Briggate.

This space benefits from new trees, benches, a significant increase in outdoor ‘street café’ seating and the introduction of a new street-food trading pitch. Picnic benches have also been put in place for the summer outside St John’s Church while a children’s play area is due to be installed this month in neighbouring Merrion Gardens.

A further milestone is being reached this week with the opening of Kino, Opera North’s new 100-seater restaurant. Its arrival follows the completion last year of the £18m Music Works redevelopment of the opera company’s buildings on New Briggate and the adjacent Harrison Street.

And today Leeds City Council can announce a major step forward for another project that is aiming to add some extra sparkle and shine to the area. 

The council secured £1.3m worth of funding from Historic England’s High Streets Heritage Action Zones (HAZ) programme in 2020 to support the regeneration of New Briggate and give independent local businesses an ideal environment to trade and flourish.

Now, using part of that funding, the council has confirmed the award of its first New Briggate HAZ grant, which will be used to kickstart improvements to a line of four shops and commercial units opposite Leeds Grand Theatre, restoring their historic features and character.

Following a phase of initial preparatory work, their frontages will be given a facelift and timber sash windows installed, with extensive interior repairs and refurbishments due to be carried out on their combined upper floors. These upper floors have been vacant for a number of years and, once the overhaul is complete, they will be brought back into use as residential apartments.

Further HAZ improvement grants are in the pipeline for other properties on New Briggate with a view to making the famous old street a more attractive spot to visit, shop and live.

The deployment of traditional materials and the latest conservation methods will mean the revamped buildings complement landmarks such as the Grand Arcade and St John’s Church – the oldest surviving place of worship in Leeds.

The street improvements, jointly delivered through the HAZ and LPTIP,  have also incorporated new Yorkstone paving and enhanced access on the approach to a set of steps that lead up to St John’s churchyard.

Other HAZ plans for 2022 include Heritage Open Days activity and a two-day festival of traditional heritage skills being held in conjunction with the Churches Conservation Trust.

The various strands of the New Briggate HAZ scheme complement the council’s highway improvements programme and external projects such as the Opera North redevelopment, exemplifying the joined-up thinking that is driving efforts to make Leeds city centre the best possible place for people to work, rest and play.

Recent figures show that the city centre is continuing to recover well from the effects of COVID-19, with weekend footfall roughly on a par with – and sometimes even above – that seen before the pandemic.

Councillor Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council’s executive member for economy, culture and education, said:

“New Briggate is an area filled with history – its many and varied buildings have countless tales to tell after providing special memories over the years for generations of people from Leeds.

“It’s really pleasing, therefore, that the council is able to play its part in ensuring that this much-loved street can also look forward to a vibrant and successful future.

“The newly-announced HAZ building improvement work will respect and protect New Briggate’s rich heritage while, at the same time, helping us deliver on our city-wide ambitions for people-focused regeneration and inclusive growth.”

The council’s package of Connecting Leeds upgrades to New Briggate’s highway infrastructure – delivered by contractor John Sisk & Son – included improvements such as wider pavements, enhanced cycling facilities and the planting of more greenery. Motor vehicles can no longer use the lower section of New Briggate other than for access and loading at specific times.

These changes form part of wider efforts to reduce traffic congestion and achieve better air quality across the city centre as a whole, with new bus, cycle and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure being added to routes like Call Lane and Bridge End.

LPTIP bus priority measures have played a key role in the creation of high-quality pieces of public realm at locations such as the Corn Exchange and Cookridge Street as well as New Briggate.

The improvements at New Briggate are also contributing to the regeneration and celebration of the city’s rich built heritage, with the final phases of work continuing on the Lower Kirkgate Townscape Heritage Initiative. This work follows the recent restoration of Kirkgate’s historic First White Cloth Hall building, the conservation and reuse of other properties on the street and the completion of public realm works.

Councillor Helen Hayden, Leeds City Council’s executive member for infrastructure and climate, said:

“The city centre is already a fantastic place, but we are determined to make it even better and confirm it as a truly world-class destination that showcases and supports the very best of Leeds – its zest for life, its culture, its thriving businesses.

“New Briggate is a great example of how we are achieving that by implementing changes sensitively, with a full appreciation of the individual character and identity of different parts of the city centre, while also listening to and acting upon what local people want.

“These improvements will help Leeds attract the kind of investment that brings jobs, homes and quality spaces where everyone can meet and connect.”

Opera North’s Music Works project has given New Briggate and Harrison Street an extra cultural dimension with the opening of the Howard Opera Centre, complete with facilities such as an education studio, tuition rooms and orchestra rehearsal space. On New Briggate itself, a dedicated box office and public atrium have been incorporated into Opera North’s Howard Assembly Room as part of the project, which received funding from a wide range of donors and other supporters, including the council. 

The new Kino restaurant sits on New Briggate next to Leeds Grand Theatre and is due to open its doors for the first time today (Wednesday, July 6).

Richard Mantle, general director at Opera North, said:

“In parallel with our own major redevelopment of the Opera North estate, it has been wonderful to see how work on the High Street Heritage Action Zone is transforming the Grand Quarter as a whole.

 “We’re hugely grateful to Leeds City Council for their contribution to the Music Works project, and for leasing us the former shop units below the Howard Assembly Room that are now the site of our new restaurant.

 “The opening of Kino will see Opera North contributing to gastronomic life in the Grand Quarter in addition to its cultural offer, with the re-routing of traffic already having made the space around our buildings a far more pleasant place for diners, music lovers and theatre-goers to spend time.”

Richard Butterfield, from Historic England, said:

“We are delighted to be working with Leeds City Council and a range of property owners and local partners to support the revival of New Briggate.

“The Grand Quarter was classified as a conservation area in 2017 in recognition of its special architectural interest and includes historic buildings including Leeds Grand Theatre, the Grand Arcade, St John’s Church and a handsome parade of shops.

“The hard work and commitment of all those involved is helping to enhance this part of the city and we are delighted that Historic England’s High Street Heritage Action Zone funding is helping to bring this to fruition.”

Notes to editors:

The privately-owned properties covered by the first New Briggate HAZ improvement grant run from number 33 to number 45.

High Streets Heritage Action Zones is a £95m government-funded programme led by Historic England, designed to secure lasting improvements and help breathe new life into historic high streets for the communities and businesses that use them. Historic England is working with local people and partners to unlock the rich heritage on these high streets, through repair and improvement works as well as arts and cultural programmes, making them more attractive to residents, businesses, tourists and investors.

ENDS

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