Leeds Civic Trust

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Public Realm


Merrion Gardens

The public realm is made up of all those parts of the urban environment to which the public has access - streets, yards and arcades, paved areas, squares and courts. Leeds city centre has a number of good quality open spaces including City Square, Millennium Square and Victoria Gardens. Much of the shopping area of the city was pedestrianised in the late 1960s to add to the pedestrian-only arcades and yards which are a feature of Briggate. The Trust is closely involved in the promotion of improvements to this public realm, including our contribution to the Quality Places and Spaces sub-group of the Leeds Property Forum. This group has produced 10 Principles for ensuring that public spaces can become distinctive "places":

  • Provide a context and venue for social interaction
  • Design primarily for the pedestrian
  • Design the space as 'an outdoor room'
  • Create a clear and lively relationship between indoor and outdoor uses
  • Cater for different users; provide an inclusive not exclusive place
  • Plan a 24 hour space
  • Key elements must be robust and attractively designed
  • Provide options for shade, shelter and security
  • Not one space but many
  • Ensure the space becomes part of the existing urban hierarchy

Leeds Civic Trust campaigns for these attributes in our discussions with developers and the City Council and would particularly like to see:

  • Priority for pedestrians and cyclists in city and town centre streets with more pedestrianisation
  • Reduction in street clutter including excessive signage and pedestrian barriers
  • More trees in the city and other town centres
  • More grassed areas in the city centre
  • More public art
  • Better facilities for children to help create a family-friendly city centre

Outside the city centre, Leeds as a whole has a number of parks and open spaces within its boundaries - for example, Roundhay Park, Gotts Park, Meanwood Park, Temple Newsam, to name but a few. However, within the city centre, the amount of green space is very limited. Park Square, the largest of Leeds' partial Georgian Squares (none were completed by the end of the Georgian period) is one of the few. Merrion Gardens also provides some grass, and on sunny days, these small spaces of green are soon crowded with people enjoying their warm, relaxing ambience.

Yet other spaces in the city centre are grass-less: Millennium Square, Victoria Gardens, City Square. Even trees in the city centre are a rarity. Wherever there is a major development in the city centre, the Trust promotes the concept of new green space, not always successfully. However, there are long term proposals for a city centre park south of the river on the Tetley's site. A very small part of this is promised as part of Carlsberg's temporary permission to put car parking (with hardly any greenery) on that site; the current proposals for the car park site at Sovereign Street also include a green space

Perhaps a lack of green spaces is the price we pay for our compact city centre. However, in large developments such as that proposed for the Eastgate Quarter, the opportunity ought to be taken to redress the balance. Whilst the hard paved spaces of the city have considerable merits grass and trees increase the opportunities for biodiversity and are desperately needed to provide some soft living, breathing space in an otherwise barren and unrelenting built-up city centre.