Downtown in Business recently hosted a lunch forum at the Hilton Hotel in Leeds city centre. The event, which was sponsored by Avison Young and Laing O’Rourke, was focused on the status of the Northern Powerhouse, issues surrounding the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda and the aftermath of the recent announcement of the axing of the HS2 route to Leeds. DIB CEO, Frank McKenna, was joined by Leader of Leeds City Council, Councillor James Lewis and Chief Executive of Leeds City Council, Tom Riordan, discussing how Leeds should focus on their assets and look towards the future in the wake of the HS2 news, and the issues that not only Leeds, but all Northern cities, face in autonomy versus Westminster dominance. The lunch was the last event in a three-part series organised by Avison Young and the issues raised will form part of a White Paper which will be put to the government.
Councillor James Lewis began the discussion by focusing on some of Leeds’ positive attributes. He noted that Leed United’s promotion to the Premier League and the opening of the Channel 4 headquarters in Leeds has ‘given the city a boost’ and shows how attractive Leeds is to businesses and networks due to its ‘good relationships between the council, public and private sectors, and the wider community feel’. In terms of the recent government announcement, he mentioned that ‘in Leeds it is currently an interesting time in terms of transport’. Despite the HS2 causing ‘a loss in time and investment in Leeds’, the Councillor focused positive transport developments with improvements on the Trans Pennine network and the fact that ‘there have been more frequent services in places that haven’t historically been connected by rail’.
Tom Riordan followed on by expressing his disappointment with the lack of direct communication from the central government regarding HS2 and that Leeds ‘have to recognise it as a setback’. However, he stated that in comparison to previous setbacks in Leeds (such as the Super Tram), the city should ‘move forward, get on and deliver change’. Adding to the Councillor’s positives developments, Tom highlighted the steps Leeds is taking towards the Net Zero aims, such as cleaner buses, pedestrianisation in the city centre and District Heating. Another point that Tom emphasised is the ‘booming tech sector in Leeds’ and its ‘versatility’. Both speakers highlighted the talent and skills that Leeds, and the wider Yorkshire region, possesses through its young demographic and that this will drive Leeds through both tech and the labour market in the near future.
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