Mike Hughes looks at the mix of old and new businesses that has brought another accolade to a thriving city centre
Leeds could be the living definition of change.
Just as the fortunes of its football team have been more uncertain than certain for some years – with manager Gary Monk perhaps about to stir the mix all over again – so the city had been struggling to pin down its identity.
Like the club at times, an army of supporters and a formidable team (on paper….) but not many trophies in the cabinet. But not now.
The revitalised and reorganised city is officially one of the must-see highlights for European travellers, along with the likes of Le Havre and Paphos, after its thriving business scene was praised by Lonely Planet for its key role in making the city one of the most vibrant in Europe.
Travel experts at Lonely Planet chose Leeds as the only UK city and put it in fifth place in their hotlist of “European destinations you need to see in 2017”, beaten only by Zagreb in Croatia; Gotland, Sweden; Galicia, Spain and Northern Montenegro.
A Lonely Planet spokesman praised the business successes and the level of collaboration with new enterprises, telling BQ: “Once defined by its industrial past, Leeds is now a confident, cultural hub in the North of England, with plenty to offer to visitors.
“Part of that reason is the diverse range of local businesses and what they offer - from a thriving food and drink scene best discovered in restaurants, coffee houses and breweries, to boutique shops and local nightlife, meaning there's never been a better time to explore this dynamic city."
The guide also praises the city’s rapid progress and cultural highlights, saying: “Manchester’s northern cousin has spent the past decade pulling its studenty socks up, reimagining Leeds as a pilgrimage city for craft beer lovers, a budding arts hub and an edgy destination for night owls.
“Recent developments have propelled its Victorian city centre and atmospheric mill district into the 21st century, luring stylish boutiques, innovative coffee houses and restaurants, and people seeking an alternative to London. Time your visit with the stellar two-week-long indie food festival in May – testament to Leeds’ growing reputation as the food and drink capital of the north.
“This year also marks two major events: the reopening of the city’s premier art gallery, and the 50th anniversary of Leeds Carnival – Europe’s longest-running authentic West Indian knees-up, predating Notting Hill.”
The bedrock that every city is built on is, of course, its commerce – the businesses that create the wealth and pay the taxes that underpin new developments which in turn attract new investors.
The progress has been rapid and carefully targeted to keep thet mix just right, and the recent list of achievements that help keep the momentum going is impressive.
One of its newest attractions is the newly-opened Victoria Gate shopping centre, which brought home another recent title when it was named the world’s best shopping sentre at the internationally renowned real estate competition the MIPIM Awards, which were staged during the conference in Cannes a few weeks ago.
The Leeds City Region LEP paints a positive picture – as you would hope - of the full package visitor and investors will find.
In 2013 the £350m Trinity Leeds opened and welcomed more than 22 million visitors in the first year.
The £60m first direct arena, Europe’s first purpose built state of the art ‘super-theatre’, has transformed the leisure and entertainment offer in the city.
The eastern leg of HS2 will see a state of the art station in the city centre which will kick-start a significant regeneration across the south bank of the city in what will be one of the biggest changes in the city centre for 150 years.
The Leeds City Region Enterprise Zone, launched in April 2012, is located two miles east of Leeds city centre. Fully developed, it could deliver up to 7,000 new jobs and stimulate development of the wider Aire Valley Leeds.
Roger Marsh OBE, chair of Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership commented: “The news today that Lonely Planet has placed Leeds in its list of top five destinations for travellers in Europe, is vindication of something I’ve known since I arrived in the city at 18; it’s a fantastic place to live, work and visit.
“I firmly believe that Leeds and the wider city region offer something for every type of traveller to enjoy, from cosmopolitan city centres to towns full of character and breath-taking countryside.
"What’s more our region is full of culture, from the Hepworth in Wakefield to the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford and in the case of Leeds, the Northern Ballet, world class shopping centres such as Victoria Gate and the historic Headingly Stadium.
“I’m sure this recognition by Lonely Planet will lead to greater visitor numbers to the City and the city region, with people coming to see a top European destination and staying for the Yorkshire hospitality.”
Cllr Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “This is a fabulous endorsement for Leeds and to be recognised as one of the top places in Europe people want to visit, enjoy and explore is something that as a city, we can all be incredibly proud of.
“To see Leeds take its place alongside some of the world’s top travel destinations is testament to the vision and hard work of the many businesses, organisations and attractions who contribute so much to the continued growth of our thriving visitor economy.
“It’s particularly encouraging to see the quality of our city’s impressive cultural, leisure and nightlife scenes acknowledged and I hope this recognition means we will soon be welcoming even more visitors from across Europe and beyond to experience everything Leeds has to offer.”