Our Urban Designers have taken a crucial role in developing recently unveiled plans for the new Leeds Innovation Arc that will have a lasting legacy on the city.
Planit-IE, along with Deloitte and Civic Engineers, was commissioned by Leeds City Council to undertake the ‘Leeds City Centre West Spatial Analysis’ in 2021. The three practices looked at the area’s physical qualities, in conjunction with economic analysis undertaken by Metro Dynamics.
With major capital investment projects by the University of Leeds, Leeds Beckett University, Leeds Arts University and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust coming in the near future, Leeds City Council was keen to act to establish an evidence-based vision to guide the further development of the city’s existing innovation district.
The Innovation Arc, ranges from the north of the city around the University campuses and Hospital, through the urban centre, and on towards Park Square, Wellington Place estate, the River Aire and the canal; spanning 150 hectares and stitching together some of the most significant innovation assets in the north of England. From east to west it stretches from Park Row to Woodhouse Moor, with Leeds Station representing a key gateway site in the southeast corner of the arc.
Anna Couch, the practice’s Urban Design Studio Director explains that the Innovation Arc was arrived at through our analysis and understanding of the structure of this part of Leeds.
We also looked at how larger stakeholders, such as the University and the Hospital, were evolving their campuses and the long-term impact that would have on the physical makeup of the area. Where the University and Hospital campuses meet, there are significant constraints, and pedestrians can compete with vehicles for access. There’s a need to integrate these larger campuses physically and functionally, not only with each other, but also with the grain of the city to ensure wider opportunities are maximised.
The practice’s research helped uncover perspectives of the city that might not have been considered previously.
As Anna explains, when we really started to get under the skin of the analysis and look at where innovation appears, we had to demonstrate that innovation can't exist in isolation without supporting retail, residential, and transport infrastructure. As we studied that challenge in the wider Leeds context, opportunities in adjacent areas became clearer, and key routes across the city opened. Innovation needs places for interaction, and a well-designed public realm offers more than just a place to eat your lunch on a nice day, it contributes to a setting, its attractiveness, and its sustainability long-term.
As part of the work, the team developed The Innovation Test, a tool designed to focus on good placemaking principles that underpin innovation, and highlighted the hotbeds of opportunity in the city. No one area can deliver all the ingredients of innovation that you need. The Innovation Test showed us where we could bring about more innovation with small strategic interventions. The concept of the Arc emerged as we realised that we saw several areas where great innovation could overlap and thrive, along with the importance of the quality of the connections between them. You need residential, retail, public open space, culture, heritage and identity to create a successful and unique offer. We also considered the potential bridge link over the river and the ongoing Temple project which is extremely exciting.
As commented upon by Niall Alcock, Director in Deloitte’s Real Assets Advisory team: “You get different innovation district models, typically either based around out-of-town campuses or large-scale regeneration projects. With the Leeds Innovation Arc, there is an opportunity to apply that model to an established area with its own well-established and varied character, and create a series of innovation hubs, each with their own identity.
You've got such strong existing anchor institutions with the potential for major capital projects to create clusters around. You also have the civic and cultural heart of the city, which together can create a unique offer to attract investment into the city. So, you have the ingredients of a successful innovation district, it’s about knitting it together and building connections to areas around the city to improve access for all.”
A sequence of innovation neighbourhoods will be formed around the natural anchors of the main universities, the proposed adult and children’s hospitals, and major private sector partners. Existing assets such as the EC Stoner building, St Paul’s House, Leeds General Infirmary, designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott are all part of Leeds' personality, while new developments are helping to define the modern city.
Although focussing on ‘Innovation’, the framework includes wider place-specific strategies for improvements to public open space, walking and cycling, a potential mass transit route, a rich mix of housing, retail, commercial and culture, and a heritage-led approach to development, which sit at the heart of Leeds’ Net Zero future. There will be an increase of new homes in close proximity and the potential for large-scale public realm improvements. There will also be space earmarked for two new city parks creating four hectares of new, meaningful green space.
In the process of being adopted as a Supplementary Planning Document, the Leeds Innovation Arc will help define and determine the evolution of the west of the city for years to come. It will continue to evolve as the city develops the South Bank and engages more with how people use public space.
Anna comments: “Leeds City Council has already been successful with its own urban innovations and changing the way people interact with the public realm. Its approach to tactical urbanism and experimenting with road closures for improved pedestrian experience has yielded some great results, particularly in places like Greek Street, where internal uses have come outside. Innovation is about trial and error, and opportunities to explore future permanent changes.
Innovation isn't just happening behind closed doors in big institutions, it's manifesting itself in many ways in the streets of Leeds which residents and workers will be experiencing. Leeds Innovation Arc will drive sustainable, economic growth in the city and be a crucial part of its Net Zero future. We’re excited to see if come to life.”
Leeds City Council’s first round of consultation on the Innovation Arc SPD will run until 12 December 2022. Find out more here.