For almost 20 years, one of Leeds city centre’s most historic building has been left abandoned, derelict, and falling apart.
By Shin Yiing Lee
Leeds’ First White Cloth Hall was built in 1711 during the textile market boom, but was later left unused and put on the Heritage at Risk Register in 1999. Leeds City Council had been occasionally publishing updates on their website regarding updates on the Cloth Hall since 2010, but no progress had been seen for it.
“It did take a long time, no pretense otherwise” said Councillor Richard Lewis, Leeds City Council’s Executive member for Regeneration, Transport and Planning.
The historic Cloth Hall located in Lower Kirkgate finally has a brighter future marked out for it as renowned land developers Rushbond PLC have announced that they have acquired the building in February. Its refurbishment is the central project in the Townscape Heritage Initiative, and will be supported by funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Councillor Lewis said that he has faith in Rushbond to put something forward. “I feel relaxed. More than relaxed that we will see a scheme come forward because they (Rushbond) by acquiring it, is a statement of intent.”
Previously, while the building was in the hands of City Fusion, no progress was made. “And time goes by and you think well but we’re not getting anywhere are we?” Councillor Lewis said. “But as a council we had to show that we’ve given them every opportunity.”
Mark Finch, Director of Rushbond said: “Over many years, there have been various attempts to bring forward a viable scheme that ensures a sustainable future for the asset. We now believe that, with the skills and resource we and our team can bring to bear,… we can transform the site and ensure it acts as a catalyst to the regeneration of this historic street.”
£1.5m has been awarded to the project by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and will be matched with £668k public funding from the council. The Lottery Fund had also contributed to the restoration of 92 and 93 Kirkgate, which are right beside the First White Cloth Hall.
92 Kirkgate’s success in being restored into a cafe bar called Wapentake, has placed the Townscape Heritage Scheme for Lower Kirkgate off to a good start. Peter Mason, the landlord for 92 and 93 Kirkgate, said: “We’re kind of the first ones to get going, but I think in five years time you’ll be amazed if you come back here because the whole street will look really nice.”
Councillor Lewis said that he expects a firm proposal from Rushbond will be reaching the council in three to four months, and restoration works on the Cloth Hall will begin in the next couple of years.