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Leeds: A sleeping giant set to awaken?

What defines a sleeping giant? 

A former teacher of mine once insisted that, in football terms, Huddersfield Town fell into this bracket.

A quick check of the history books backed up his assertion. But, in the early 1990s, the West Yorkshire side were very much dozing and the idea of them reaching football’s top tier seemed ludicrous.

Little did we know.

Twenty miles north-east of Huddersfield is another sleeping giant: Leeds. Now though, with the team in the chase for promotion to the Premier League, Leeds are reawakening.

The same can be said of the city in general.

Leeds was today named as the UK’s second-most improved city, behind Birmingham, in Demos-PwC’s ‘Good Growth for Cities’ index for 2017. 

The city is undergoing serious redevelopment with plenty more down the track. 

This week, Leeds City Council unveiled plans for the £500m redevelopment of its main station, aimed to accommodate the arrival of HS2. The vision is reminiscent of Kings Cross’ regeneration, which is not surprising as lead architect, Gensler’s Hiro Aso, designed the London interchange.

With Bam Construction signed up as part of a consortium working on the Leeds plans, the project displays an ambitious vision for what will reaffirm Leeds station as a key transport hub.

As the city’s council leader Judith Blake says: “The arrival of high-speed rail is essential to helping Leeds and the wider region fully realise its massive potential.”

Plans to accommodate what the masterplan refers to as ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’ are also incorporated.

Hopefully, by the time shovels go in the ground, the government will have put some much-needed meat on the bones of its Northern Powerhouse concept, lest the idea end up like David Cameron’s mystical Big Society.

Alongside this is the regeneration of the city’s South Bank, with plans for at least 8,000 new homes on the 250 ha site, which will double the size of the city centre.

Plans have also been unveiled this year for a major new £300m project, which will involve a 2.4 ha site in the city’s centre being transformed into a cultural hub. 

The only negative on the horizon appears to be the government and Yorkshire councils’ failure to agree a devolution deal, allowing greater local power on housing, skills and transport decisions.

Nevertheless, Leeds’ future looks bright.

The city has lived in the shadows of its Roses rival Manchester, particularly in football terms, for some time. And indeed, in talk of the Northern Powerhouse, much of the focus has been on its Pennines neighbour.

How long before this sleeping giant fully emerges from the shadows?

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