According to a new council-led survey, the people of Leeds want their city to be the best in the world by 2030.
Culture is very important. It creates identity and place, which makes it attractive for investment. It makes people feel good about the place they live, which sets a context for growth.
But how do we get there? Is it even realistic or achievable? The timing isn’t great – in the same week, the council admitted it had to shed £90m from its budget this year, as well as losing 1,500 staff.
More than 100 of the city’s leaders and residents gave their opinions of how to make Leeds the best city in the UK in 20 years time. Perhaps not surprisingly, the environment, transport, jobs, good community relations, safety and culture were cited as key issues.
But aren’t they always?
The ‘What if Leeds’ public consultation began last September. Its findings will help form the third ‘Vision for Leeds’, being drawn up for release in the summer.
But Neil McInroy, chief executive of economic development think tank CLES (Centre for Local Economic Strategies), says the key it a city’s success is not just about physical investment, but the relationships that exist within it.
“Some city regions are better placed than others and Leeds is included in those,” he said. “The key to growth is not just classic economic investment; it’s about the base conditions for housing that growth.
“Economic resilience is about relationships and connections – it’s about the public, private and social sectors working together. We need to think outside normal economic terms. It’s always guesswork, but more so if those relationships aren’t in place.”
McInroy believes the laws of economics have changed, making it difficult to predict what might happen in three years, let alone 20. Leeds is helped by having a plethora of good commuter towns in its orbit, however.
“Leeds is near other cities, which is good for labour markets,” he said. “But we’re in a global economy and to try and predict that in 20 years is very difficult if not impossible. Leeds will have advantages over other northern cities though.
McInroy claims the city’s private sector has a big responsibility to invest, but not just money. Public sector organisations will need to look at their supply chains and where it buys its services. It may have to look to offer more contracts to local firms, instead of using companies based outside the city.
“That’s one of the few levers for growth they have left,” he said. “Private sector will have to plug the gaps left by the public sector. They’ve had good support from local authorities in the last few years. But it’s not just about money – it’s about creating a sense of place.
“Culture is very important. It creates identity and place, which makes it attractive for investment. It makes people feel good about the place they live, which sets a context for growth.”
Alex Chisholm, associate director of West Yorkshire Playhouse agrees. He argues that arts and culture have been major drivers of regeneration and employment in cities like Liverpool, Glasgow, and Newcastle. “Leeds can achieve this over the next 20 years so that the city isn’t just dominated by its shopping malls and high rises but by communal spaces filled with art, music, dance and theatre,” he says.
The city’s partnership organisation, ‘Leeds Initiative’ has also been collecting data through its “The What if Leeds, Talk Today. Shape Tomorrow” campaign.
Ambition is no bad thing, but market conditions can often provide and unhelpful slap in the face. As McInroy argues: “A 20 year vision is useful as an aspiration and framework, but clearly there are lots of external factors.
“There’s an argument to suggest the world economy will never be the same again so to try and predict the future is dreamy.”