It may be the only major scheme that is being built outside of London, but Trinity Leeds is letting well. Tim Danaher pays a visit

Trinity Leeds

If it’s been a few months since you visited Leeds, you might be in for a surprise. Just nine months since work restarted on the 1 million sq ft Trinity Leeds development, the scheme is rapidly taking shape, with the steelwork in place and concrete floors in on most of the site.

There’s a lot riding on the scheme. Once Westfield Stratford City opens this autumn, Leeds is pretty much the only significant shopping centre in the UK under construction. Its success, or otherwise, will be a key barometer of the UK retail property market.

So far though, the omens are good. Two years out from completion in spring 2013, 60% of the development is pre-let. As Retail Week revealed (April 21), Primark has signed a pre-let on a 90,000 sq ft unit in the scheme, joining Marks & Spencer - which will occupy 155,000 sq ft in the city it was born - as its anchor tenant.

Retail Week can also reveal that Mango has now agreed to take a 2,500 sq ft store, the first time it has had a store in Leeds. It has taken a unit on the Briggate side of the scheme, close to Hollister.

They join retailers including Next, Topshop and Cult in having agreed terms to go into the scheme. It is set to transform the shopping offer in a city that while it’s in the top five destinations for shoppers in the UK, has for a long time lacked the units that retailers need there. Next for example will be occupying three times the space it has in the city at present.

Anchors away

Work is most advanced on the Briggate end of the scheme, where Topshop/Topman and River Island will face out onto what has traditionally been the hub of the city’s shopping and one of the top five shopping streets in the UK. Unusually, Trinity Leeds lacks a department store anchor, but Land Securities director John Grimes is unfazed by this, pointing out that House of Fraser, Debenhams and Harvey Nichols are on the doorstep of the Briggate frontage.

This part of the development is new build, but at the western end of the scheme, closest to Leeds station and the city’s office district, the existing Leeds Shopping Plaza shopping centre will be totally transformed and incorporated into Trinity Leeds.

The existing development won’t be missed by many but its existing tenants including Bhs and Boots will be joined by others, notably Primark, one of the first times it will have anchored a new scheme in a major city. “Primark is going to be an incredible footfall driver,” says Grimes, and the store will act as a gateway to the development for people arriving by train. Interestingly, in a reflection of the strength of Leeds as a retail destination, the Irish fast fashion giant is expected to continue to trade its existing store in the city on The Headrow.

As well as retail, leisure will be a key element of Trinity Leeds, and while the city is well-known for its student nightlife scene, the hope is that this will persuade more of the city’s 100,000 office workers to stick around after work. Upmarket London-based cinema chain Everyman will be making its debut outside the capital in the development, as will Sir Terence Conran’s restaurant group D&D, while above the Briggate frontage will be a terrace bar.

It should all add to the life of the city, especially as it will provide the key linkages into its established core. The scheme’s curved glass roof will allow light to pour in by day, while at night, the bars and restaurants, and the fact people will be able to walk through the site at all hours, should give a new vibrancy to an area that currently dies when the shops close.

With the advent of the recession, major city centre developments almost came to a halt around the UK. But Leeds shows that in the right locations, there is still an appetite among retailers for bigger, better units in good schemes. Whether this heralds a wider development revival for the UK is unclear. But what it is without question is very good news for Leeds.