03Policy 3: Supporting city centres in West Yorkshire

  • Encourage people back into Leeds city centre when it is safe to do so. Like other large cities across the country, Leeds has faced a shock to city centre commuting and spending in the pandemic. The new mayor should work with government on a campaign to reassure people that city centres will be safe once the pandemic is over.
  • Allow growth in Leeds through creating more high-quality office space. It is not obvious that the working patterns brought about by the pandemic will be permanent, or if they are that the need for city centre office space will decline. The success of Leeds city centre supports the rest of West Yorkshire and its continued success is key for nearby towns and cities.
  • Kickstart the city centres in the rest of the combined authority area by replacing industrial and retail space with high quality office space. The other city centres in the combined authority area are over-reliant on shopping and do not have the commercial space needed to support their local economies. The new mayor should pursue their redevelopment, and help them shift towards a balanced mix of commercial space.

City centres are crucial for driving the economy by providing jobs for both high-paid office commuters and for those working in local services jobs that rely on these commuters for footfall. Despite the economic impact of the pandemic, Centre for Cities’ research suggests that city centres will continue to play an important role, and with the right support, should bounce back quickly to continue playing this role in the future.3

The new mayor should encourage people back into the city centres when it is safe to do so. As shown in Centre for Cities’ research for Core Cities UK, Leeds city centre, like that of many other large cities, has been badly hit by a drop in footfall as those who could shifted to working from home.3 The knock-on effect of this is that local services businesses have been left high and dry without the commuters on whose custom they are usually rely. The new mayor should work with the Government’s Urban Centre Recovery taskforce to launch an advertising campaign to encourage the return of city centre workers when it is safe to do so. This should be similar in scale and scope to the campaign that originally discouraged people away from city centres.

In the longer term, the mayor should allow Leeds to grow its footprint of high-quality office and amenity space in the city centre. The growth of Leeds city centre should sit at the heart of plans for the combined authority to increase productivity, and the Spatial Development Strategy should reflect this. Centre for Cities’ research has shown that the success of local city centres supports prosperity in nearby towns. In practice, this will mean allowing Leeds city centre to expand, as demand for employment space in Leeds grows. The mayor should explore development opportunities near the city centre to replicate the ongoing success of the Southbank development.

In other cities and towns in the combined authority area, the mayor should focus on kick-starting growth in centres by making sure that the office space on offer is as attractive as possible. Centre for Cities’ research shows that the centres of Wakefield, Huddersfield and Bradford are dominated by retail and industrial space, while office space plays a comparatively smaller role. For example, while 50 per cent of the average city centre’s commercial property is office space, only 21 per cent is in Wakefield, as 29 per cent is industrial.

Of the office space that is available in these places, a smaller than average share is of high quality, and vacancy rates for high street uses like shops and restaurant space are above average. Shifting away from having high shares of industrial and retail will be key for these places to reach their potential by making city centres more attractive to do business. The new mayor should support additional high quality, small city centre office projects such as the Bradford City Hub and The Media Centre in Huddersfield, and use the Spatial Development Strategy to prioritise further remodelling of these centres.


  • 3 Breach A (2021) Core Cities: the impact of the first wave of Covid-19, London: Centre for Cities
  • 4 Breach A (2021) Core Cities: the impact of the first wave of Covid-19, London: Centre for Cities