Thousands sign petition against plans to close building housing dozens of small businesses in Leeds | News

The Workshops building on Aire Street is set to close in the new year

The council says the building needs millions of pounds worth of work

Author: Rosanna Robins Published 30 minutes ago

Dozens of small businesses in Leeds say they fear for their future as the council defends plans to close the building where they work.

The Aire Street workshops are home to around 150 people working at over 50 small businesses in the creative industries.

But Leeds City Council plans to close the building in the new year, saying it needs millions of pounds worth of work it cannot afford.

More than 5,000 people have now signed a petition against the plans, with several of the businesses telling us they want the council to work with them to look at other options.

“It’s an important part of the city and it feels really good to be here and be a part of it and encourage that growth,” says Louise, manager of the Take It Easy film lab.

Some of the creative spaces in the Atelier building in Aire Street

“I think that’s another reason why we were so disappointed and shocked by the decision because there are a lot of people in this building who help Leeds council sell the city through the murals, through the workshops that they do.”

One of those people is photographer and set designer Camille:

“I’d say at least half the people in this building have worked specifically for the council before. I’ve worked a lot with them myself for Leeds City of Culture 2023. It’s a bit of a kick in the teeth to need us one second and then get rid of our premises the next.

“I don’t know what the future of my career will be without this building. It’s very hard to find creative spaces in Leeds at the moment. And I think it’s going to have such an effect across the whole of Leeds… if none of these businesses are here, then none of the tens of thousands of clients who use our creative services can either.”

Filmmaker Owen Seacroft helped produce Cut Short, a knife crime film that was delivered to 260 schools and organizations across the country to help educate young people.

“Teachers say it makes kids open up. But we couldn’t have made that film without this facility.

“People obviously want these things and the feedback is that it’s so needed and people are so grateful for it. But it seems that it is not in the council’s priority to support the places that facilitate such campaigns.

“We don’t feel there’s been room for negotiation, you know from the council saying ‘here’s what we’re thinking of doing’ … there’s been no offer to do this collaboratively. So it’s like we were basically told to get lost.”

Businesses we spoke to say they were not told about the plans until the middle of last month and claim the council has not engaged with them directly. But the council says it told the building’s tenant about its plans seven months in advance.

Council defends closure plans

A Leeds City Council spokesman said: “We are committed to supporting the tenants of the site and helping as many of them as possible to find new premises in Leeds.

“They and their predecessors made Aire Street Workshops a center for cultural and creative activity. However, it is also an outdated building in need of major repairs and improvements.

“We estimate that for its current use to continue, the building would require a seven-figure investment to ensure it meets regulatory and energy performance standards.

“Unprecedented budget pressures facing the council mean that we are unfortunately unable to fund this level of investment.

“Furthermore, even if the necessary funds were found and the work carried out, we anticipate that improvements to the building would have to be reflected in rent increases that would place an unfair burden on current tenants.

“So there was a meeting between the council and the lessee of the building, LCVS Enterprises, last September.

“At the meeting, LCVS was informed that the site had been identified as a likely asset for sale and that a commercial real estate firm had been engaged to prepare a valuation report.

“To be clear, we expected LCVS, as the tenant, to pass this news on to their individual tenants as soon as possible.

“The council owns the land and has no formal relationship with the LCVS tenants. As such, it is the responsibility of the LCVS to liaise with them on matters such as a potential sale of the building.

“At the September meeting we also agreed a request from LCVS to extend the current lease until January 2025 so that their tenants have more time to find alternative accommodation before any sale.

“However, it appears the tenants were not informed of the plans for the site until last week. (Week commencing April 15)

“This is clearly regrettable, but we would stress once again that the LCVS knew of our likely intentions as far back as September.

“Indeed, it is difficult to reconcile any suggestion that the LCVS do not know the council’s intentions with their request for a lease extension, which they linked to the tenants’ need to find new premises.

“The council began discussions with LCVS back in 2016 regarding the poor condition of the building and how this could affect its future operation.

“A letter was also sent to LCVS on February 19 this year confirming that the property was now scheduled for disposal during the 2024/25 financial year. This letter further confirmed that vacant possession will be required when the extended lease ends.

“At no time in the past seven months has LCVS given us any indication that tenants have not been kept fully informed of developments.

“As a council, we have been clear that, in light of our financial challenges, difficult decisions need to be made in many service areas.

“Equally, we are keenly aware of the contribution made to life in Leeds by small businesses such as Aire Street Workshops.

“Our business support team will be developing a targeted support package for affected tenants over the coming weeks which will hopefully help this contribution to continue and grow.

“Council can also confirm that, as part of the sale and tenderer selection process, it will be willing to receive a number of offers, including those that could allow the building to operate as a form of managed workspace.

“This approach reflects our wider commitment to culture and creativity in Leeds at a time when the council – like many other businesses and organizations in the city – is facing an extremely tough budget position.”

We have requested a statement from LCVS but have yet to hear back – but in a post on their website, the firm says:

Answer from LCVS

“LCVS Enterprises Ltd is a not-for-profit company set up to provide affordable business units. It is run by a board of directors who are not paid.

“Leeds City Council has leased the Aire Street building to LCVS for more than 40 years through a succession of short-term leases. We never had the security of ownership, which meant we could never consider the long-term future of the building.

“We met with Leeds City Council on September 29 when we were informed that the Council was considering options for the building, that an options assessment would be prepared and that we would have this document in view. Without a clear statement from Leeds City Council at this time that our tenancy would be terminated, it would have been inappropriate to inform tenants that the tenancy was coming to an end.

“We received notice that the tenancy was to be terminated on 19th February 2024. This followed a decision by the Council’s Executive Committee on 7th February 2024. We were not informed that the matter had been brought to Council management for decision beforehand.

“After a short period of reflection by the Board of Directors regarding the implications of this decision and whether it could be contested, we communicated this information to the tenants. The information was released alongside a communication from tenant representatives who we consulted immediately before the information was released to all tenants.

“We understand that Leeds City Council feels unable to invest the kind of money in the building that would bring it up to statutory standards. We also cannot finance these works.

“However, Aire Street workshops provide a valuable and valuable service to small businesses in Leeds. There are no guarantees that alternative accommodation can be found and there is every chance that some of these businesses will have to cease trading. With this in mind, we believe that a pause in the sale of the building is necessary to ensure that all alternatives have been considered by all interested parties.”

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