Last week a high-level delegation from Leeds City Region visited Leeds’ partner city of Lille for a study visit on high speed rail and urban regeneration. The visit was hosted by Lille Metropolis, which delivers the economic development function across Lille City Region.
The Lille Metropolis and Leeds City Region areas have much in common in terms of their relative position in their national economies, a similar industrial heritage and a shared history of industrial decline followed by steps to revitalise and regenerate. The Euralille High Speed Rail (TGV) station in Lille has acted as a city centre catalyst for the realignment of the economy away from traditional industry and towards the service sector. The metropolitan transit system and Lille metro have been important in allowing other parts of the Lille City Region to benefit from the focussed investment in Lille city centre.
The delegation was headed up by Councillor Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds City Council and Councillor Susan Hinchcliffe, Leader of Bradford Council and also included the Chief Executive of Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership, Ben Still. They visited both the Euralille station, built in 1993 for the international Eurostar and long distance TGV services in France and the Lille Flandres railway station which operates regional rail services and the TGV to Paris. They were also shown the mixed use developments which make up the Euralille regeneration area, comprising both publicly-owned and private housing, retail and business developments.
The delegation was given an insight into how Lille managed these developments, the impact that high speed rail has had on the economy and what the planners would have done differently. All of this learning will be taken into account when planning for the new HS2 high speed rail station in Leeds and the development of the Southbank regeneration area, as well as regional links to Bradford and the rest of Leeds City Region.
Lille’s title of World Design Capital in 2020 was one of the topics under discussion in the afternoon session, as well as an exchange between Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership and Lille’s Agency, which both have the task of attracting inward investment to their respective city regions.
The delegation also had an introduction to the city of Lille’s approach to cultural investment and visited exhibitions as part of the Lille3000 cultural festival which has a theme of “Eldorado”. Lille3000 organises a cultural festival every three years as part of the legacy of Lille’s title of European Capital of Culture in 2004. The delegation visited the busy “Gare Saint Sauveur”, a disused freight railway station which has been transformed into a cultural centre and exhibition space as part of Lille’s urban regeneration programme. They also saw the huge “alebrijes” on display on one of Lille’s main streets, which are brightly coloured Mexican folk art sculptures of fantastical creatures.