Leeds Civic Trust is calling for a public debate on the installation of digital display screens in Leeds city centre. And it’s urging Leeds City Council not to approve any until a comprehensive policy on the issue has been drawn up.
What’s got the Trust anxious is a couple of planning applications for screens in the centre of town: one at West Riding House, the other 70 metres away on the corner of Bond St and Albion St.
The applications are going before councillors next Thursday (27th September) at a meeting of the planning panel that covers the city centre.
“We feel that it is essential that the City Council frames a comprehensive policy for these digital displays,” the Trust says in a letter to the council’s chief planning officer.
“There may be a location within the city centre where we could have our own Piccadilly Circus but Albion Street is not that place. There should be appropriate public discussion of such a policy prior to any ad hoc approvals around Leeds city centre,” it adds.
Albion St & Times Square
“It would be difficult to find a less suitable location for a digital display,” it says . “It would dominate the head of a street which contains no fewer than 11 entries in the Leeds gazetteer of listed buildings, including the two star listed Leeds Club.”
“We consider that no digital display, of any size or style, would be acceptable or justified in this location. This particular display would turn the western end of Albion Street into something similar to Times Square in New York City,” it adds.
Council officers are against the plan too and are recommending that councillors give it the thumbs-down.
“The proposed digital media screen would appear as an add on structure that is not integrated into the design of the building and would be visible from along the length of Albion Place and as far as the grade I listed Kirkgate Market,” a report from the council’s planning office says.
“The digital screen would terminate an important long east-west view as a backdrop to several listed buildings on Albion Place and would be seen in the context of the City Centre Conservation Area,” it adds.
“Accepted part of urban fabric”
The council planners are not against the second application, though. Only 70 metres away, that one’s for a 6.1m x 3.6m screen that’s planned to be mounted above Boots in the Trinity West development that’s being built (see mock-up, right).
It’s a close call, but on balance they’re in favour.
“The screen fills most of the newly created splay corner and is visible from streets which are within the conservation area and in the setting of a number of listed buildings,” the relevant council report says.
“However the screen is undoubtedly within a commercial centre of regional and even national significance, especially once the applicant’s own scheme opens in March 2013, where advertising is clearly an accepted part of the urban fabric in the prime shopping area.
“It is set against a back drop of a newly created modern retail development in which there is a very large glazed area to a lively and active food offer. It will act as a marker to one of the main entrances to the Trinity scheme and has been integrated in to the design of the corner rather than simply being placed upon it as an after thought.”
The Civic Trust begs to differ.
“Moving commercial advertisements … might be suitable for Piccadilly Circus or Times Square but not for a site opposite a Conservation Area and dominating the view from historic streets,” it says.
Policy “would take some time”
As to the Trust’s call for a moratorium on giving the go-ahead for any screens, the council’s planning officers pretty much pour cold water on it.
While they admit there are bound to be more applications on the way, they say they’ll make do with the guidance and policies they’ve got for the moment.
“Whilst it may eventually be prudent to develop a policy which helps the Local Planning Authority to determine such applications on a consistent basis, at this moment in time a specifically tailored policy does not exist and would take some time to conclude,” they say.
Ought to mention too that it’s not just shiny advertising that could be giving more bright lights to our big city. As John Baron reported the other day over on thecitytalking.com, West Riding House isn’t just due a re-clad and a re-name (Pinnacle), it’s looking to bathe its 20 storeys of 70s splendour in all sorts of modern lighting effects. And pretty dayglo it looks too.
The Civic Trust must be wondering where it will all end.