Leeds Civic Trust

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City Centre Retail


The Light

Leeds city centre has a range of shops which provides one of the best shopping experiences in the North of England. Its distinctive arrangement of arcades and pedestrianised streets means that a large area of shops is based in a compact and easily accessible area of the city centre. The County Arcade at the heart of what is now the Victoria Quarter, is a particularly fine example of exuberant Edwardian architecture designed in a free baroque style by Frank Matcham at the turn of the twentieth century and making extensive use of the local Burmantofts faience.

Pedestrianisation in Leeds had its early beginnings in the late 19thcentury when some of the yards in the old burgage plots off Briggate were developed as shopping arcades: Thorntons Arcade was the earliest in 1878, followed by Queens Arcade, Victoria Arcade (now lost under first the Schofields Department Store and then the Headrow Shopping Centre) Grand Arcade, Market Arcade with County and Cross Arcades the jewels in the crown. In the early 1970s, Commercial Street and Lands Lane were the first streets to be pedestrianised, amidst great opposition from local shopkeepers. It turned out to be a success, and most of the retail area is now pedestrianised.

The Grade I listed Leeds Corn Exchange opened in 1863 and continued to operate as a traditional Corn Exchange until the early 1990s before being sensitively renovated. The stunning oval building, with a spectacular domed glass roof, is now the home of independent retailers, with almost 30 boutique shops, cafes and beauty businesses and regular events and fairs.   

Kirkgate Market is said to be the largest indoor market in Leeds and the birthplace of the Marks and Spencer empire which originated with Marks' Penny Bazaar stall in 1840. Shopping centres have also played their part in the retail success of Leeds: the Headrow Shopping Centre (recently refurbished and re-named The Core) and the Leeds Plaza (previously the Bond Street Centre and soon to be part of the Trinity Quarter) have more recently been joined by The Light.

The Trinity Quarter in the heart of Leeds is now a bustling shopping centre while the Eastgate Quarter is still taking shape on the drawing board . The Trust has taken a close interest in the design of these schemes, with our planning committee providing informed comment on their design progression. We have been at the centre of debates about the future of shopping in Leeds and whether the city can absorb such an extensive increase in retail floorspace.