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What's the point of Millennium Square?

Leah Vigon asks for better use of Millennium Square

Published on April 23rd 2008.


What's the point of Millennium Square?

The millennium brought in a new era and a new public space for the residents of Leeds. To mark the year 2000, Leeds City Council spent £5 million or so tax money and were given another £6.5 by the Millennium Commission. This was used to splash out on an area that was proposed to be the 'cultural heart’ of the city: Millennium Square.

It occasionally has value as a concert area as well but then there are problems with amplified music. How comforted are the patients lying in their hospital beds mere yards away when they have the likes of The Kaiser Chief's Ricky Nelson, predicting a riot across the square?

The result has been described as 'Europe's most innovative and impressive civic spaces' or the 'people's patio'. But can we really compete with cities such as Berlin, Paris or Rome; wouldn’t that be like comparing Daniel Craig with Sean Connery, whilst Craig may be good, Connery is better? Of course it's always good to try but...

Admittedly, the city centre was lacking somewhere for significant events to take place and artists were distraught that they were not free to be creative or express themselves within a large free public area.

Sadly since Millennium Square opened, it seems we’ve only had a spattering of concerts, theatre performances and exhibitions. Most of the time it just sits bare with the ominous BBC Screen looking down upon the 'crowds'. This is usually telling people what the weather is going to be like for the next few days.

During Millennium night the square saw much jubilation and merriment but within a couple of years the New Years Eve celebrations started to lose their way. Often in the past the Council has made last minute decisions as to whether or not to do anything. Thus we make our own plans, leaving what is meant to be a place for people to gather on significant dates, somewhat redundant.

As for the positives, there are a few. The 'Christkindelmarkt' we hear you cry. Ok so we all like a bit of warm wine and German sausage to get us into that festive mood, but let’s be honest, does the market stall at one end of the square really sell anything different than the other umpteen along the same row? Once you’ve seen one hanging chimer or wooden frog, the rest can become a blur. And it's a shame that that the rarity value has become watered down as every other town and city has acquired a similar market.

It occasionally has value as a concert area as well but then there are problems with amplified music. How comforted are the patients lying in their hospital beds mere yards away when they have the likes of The Kaiser Chief's Ricky Nelson, predicting a riot across the square? Was this not taken into consideration when the Council began discussing how they could bring large noisy crowds together in a central place.

A recent article in the Yorkshire Evening Post suggested that a search had been launched to find sites that can be used to create parks and green spaces in the heart of Leeds. Would it not have been a better idea to expand the Mandela Gardens in this area into a large green space? There aren't many places in which people can spend their lunchtimes or weekends in an outside area that isn’t surrounded by shops or traffic.

It would also provide hospital patients and their visitors a place to get some fresh air in gentle surroundings. There is the beautiful Park Square not far away which is ideal for a stroll, but that is a hidden little oasis that sits quietly in the back streets of the city and not easily stumbled across.

At least the square's conception has resulted in the restoration of several older buildings such as the Electric Press building. It has improved the so-called Civic Quarter of the city. It makes a change to the old shrubbery and run down car park that once occupied the area.

In amongst the onslaught of uninspired and unoriginal modern office buildings and apartments blocks, Millennium Square does at least open the city out, to provide views of the stout structures that made Yorkshire great.

It's clear that Millennium Square holds potential. The city just has to decide how to use it regularly and effectively.

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