By David Spereall, local democracy reporter
Leeds’ local district high streets have more potential to thrive than ever before despite the loss of famous brands, a senior council figure has suggested.
Pete Mudge oversees 64 suburban high streets across the city as part of his role as Leeds Council’s neighbourhood centres co-ordinator. These include Armley, Bramley, Farsley, Kirkstall Road, Pudsey and Stanningley.
Mr Mudge, who effectively acts a conduit between the council and local businesses everywhere from Moortown from Morley, said independent traders could fill the gap left behind by major high street chains.
There are widespread fears for the future of retail centres and the impact on them from online shopping and working-from-home culture.
But Mr Mudge said this week he was optimistic about the future of small high streets.
“I think the potential for these areas has never been stronger,” he said. “With high street chains pulling out everywhere, it’s not the case now that you can go to the town next door, because they won’t be there either.
“There’s more businesses now outside the city centre than there were pre-pandemic. The reason, I guess, is as a big high street chain shuts down, people look for alternatives and they set up their own shops.
“We’re finding more independents now.”
Mr Mudge said that huge challenges remained for businesses in the small towns and suburbs that serve the majority of Leeds’ 800,000-strong population.
Covid, the cost-of-living crisis and the departure of high street banks, which has made it more tricky for shops to access cash for tills, have all contributed to a difficult climate.
But he said local shops, pubs and restaurants were increasingly clubbing together to make the spaces around them more attractive.
Some, such as The Hyde Park Club, stage cultural events and shows and even host chess evenings, in a bid to widen their offer.
Mr Mudge also said the desire for local high streets to blossom tied in with the council’s pursuit of 15-minute neighbourhoods, which would help people access services closer to home.
He added: “There was a YouGov poll which suggested that the age group which missed their high streets the most during lockdown was people in their teens and twenties, and not the elderly.
“That surprised me, because you’d think it’d be the other way round, but it’s really encouraging.
I’ve no doubt that once we do get through the cost-of-living crisis, our local centres will be absolutely fantastic places and will have a huge amount of people shopping in them.
“I think people do identify with their local areas by and large as well. That offers a bright future and it’s heartening.”