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Green light for £85m development in city centre

Leeds City Council has hailed confirmation that work is set to start on a major office development in City Square as a vote of confidence for its drive to breathe exciting new life into this key gateway area.

City Square House will stand on the Wellington Street side of the square, near Leeds City Station and the recently-revamped Majestic building.

Global law firm DLA Piper has signed a deal with developer MRP to take more than 80,000 sq ft of prime office space in the 12-storey development. Leading UK design and build contractor McAleer & Rushe will commence construction in May this year on the £85m project, which will meet the needs of the post-coronavirus era via a clever blend of technology, open plan design and roof gardens.

It is one of a number of forward-thinking schemes coming together in City Square, with the Majestic having been chosen as the home of Channel 4 following a stylish and sensitive redevelopment of the landmark former cinema, ballroom and restaurant.

Work is also continuing on several projects to improve Leeds City Station as part of the Leeds Integrated Station Masterplan, while a competition was launched in September to find an expert design team that will help oversee the wider transformation of City Square, delivering a vibrant and inclusive welcome to the city which reflects the council’s climate challenges and cultural ambitions.

Responding to news of the green light for City Square House, the council today said the scheme was an ideal illustration of how the business sector – like the rest of Leeds – stands ready to bounce back from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Councillor Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, said:

“City Square is already at the heart of life in Leeds and we are determined to improve it still further, creating a world-class space that is a source of pride for all our residents.

“The new development will help us achieve that aim and I look forward to seeing it take shape alongside the many other transformative projects planned for the city centre.

“It also offers a timely reminder that Leeds is very much open for business, despite the huge challenges posed by COVID-19.

“Schemes like City Square House will form part of a Leeds-wide effort to ensure our economy recovers from the pandemic in a way that leaves no one behind.”

Today’s announcement follows a sustained period of active work by the council with the legal sector that has seen cost-effectiveness, connectivity and a track record of innovation make Leeds the UK centre of excellence for legal services outside of London.

It also marks the start of an exciting new chapter for DLA Piper, among the largest law firms in the world and one that can trace its story back 250 years to the establishment of a founding office in Leeds.

Andrew Dyson, Leeds office managing partner at DLA Piper, said:

“Leeds is an integral part of DLA Piper and our move to City Square House reflects our long-term commitment to the city.

“We currently operate across two sites in Leeds, but with the move we will be able to bring our people under one roof and provide many more opportunities to collaborate.

“The new office will be a state-of-the-art working environment for our great people and a significant asset as we continue to attract the very best talent into the region.

“This is an exciting opportunity for us to design a sustainable office fit for the way our people and our clients will work together in the future.  In light of the pandemic this never feels more relevant or important.”

Roger Marsh OBE DL, chair of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership, said:

“This announcement recognises the strength and expertise of our region’s thriving legal sector, which is the largest outside of London.

“More than 1,500 legal companies are based here, including over a quarter of the UK’s top 100 law firms.

“The sector is a major employer, with more than 14,400 jobs – or one in four legal sector roles in the north of England – and adds around £1bn to our economy.”

Angus Monteith, property director at MRP, said:

“We are confident in the opportunities this major £85m development will present to the city of Leeds which will act as a catalyst for future investment.

“We are delighted to secure DLA Piper as the anchor tenant for City Square House, a global law firm with such a strong local history.”

Eamon Fox, partner at property consultancy Knight Frank in Leeds, advised DLA Piper on the deal.

Around 600 of the law firm’s staff are due to move into the new building in 2024 following a fit-out that will create best-in-class workspace with large flexible floorplates of just over 15,000 sq ft, upper level terraces and a double height reception area.

Exterior glazing will act as a pleasing complement to the classical façade of the neighbouring Majestic, where nearly three years of redevelopment work has been carried out – and now finished – by the Leeds-based Rushbond Group.

Channel 4 confirmed in December 2019 that the Majestic would be its new national headquarters, with the broadcaster set to take up residence there later this year.

Nearby, the area around Leeds City Station is in line for enhancements as part of the Sustainable Travel Gateway scheme, which has secured £39.5m of funding from the Department for Transport’s Transforming Cities Fund. Works are due to start towards the end of 2021.

The design competition for City Square’s public space, meanwhile, is being led by the Royal Institute of British Architects on behalf of the council and contractor Balfour Beatty.

The reimagining of the area as a whole could see it doubling in size and closing to general traffic, reducing carbon emissions and providing a stunning entry point to the culture-packed centre of Leeds for residents and visitors alike.

The redesigned City Square will be positioned among an enhanced network of pedestrian and cycle-friendly routes, boosting footfall and revenue for local and independent businesses as they recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The design competition is part of the council’s wider Our Spaces strategy for bringing improved public realm to the people of Leeds.

Recent additions to the area in and around City Square include the Platform office building – an ultra-modern redevelopment of the old City House tower block above Leeds City Station – and the 34 Boar Lane contemporary workspace hub.