Exhibition to get new VisitLeeds centre off to a flying start

Preparations are under way to welcome the VisitLeeds centre to its new home at the heart of the city’s cultural and events quarter on Monday February 2.

Leeds City Council took the decision to relinquish the lease on the centre at the railway station last year as part of having to find more than £76 million of savings from this year’s budget.

Basing the centre within council-owned premises allows the council to make savings, re-investing some of those savings into technology to support the massive expansion of people seeking information online. It also makes the service more flexible and mobile. Co-locating it within a café and gift shop allows visitors to relax and browse.

Its arrival is just in time for a major attraction directly outside as The Royal Geographical Society’s hugely-popular Britain from the Air* photographic exhibition is arriving in Victoria Gardens, next to the new centre, just a month after it opens. More details will be confirmed over the next few weeks.

Against the background of significant budget cuts, not having the rental payment and moving the centre enables the council to make a direct budget saving of at least £100,000 a year. With a new lease and rent review due, the cost of staying at the station was set to increase, making the like-for-like saving considerably greater.

This, combined with the enormous growth in people seeking online information about Leeds, as opposed to calling in person, is what sealed the decision to move and make the service less reliant on a single building.

Staff will now be much more flexible and, armed with tablet computers and the latest digital information, will be free to move around, whether it be in the new combined visitor centre, shop and café or at big events in the city.

They will also still staff the railway station for two one-hour slots a day at peak times, mingling directly with visitors on the station concourse and offering information.

The new VisitLeeds is within an existing visitor attraction in the sector of the city centre that is already the focus for large numbers of people attending tourist-related activities. It is on the doorstep of most of the city’s prime cultural attractions, within easy walking distance of Leeds City Museum, Central Library, the large public events space on Millennium Square, The Carriageworks theatre and the first direct arena.

Regular events taking place nearby include the switch-on of the Leeds Christmas lights, which attracts around 25,000 people to Victoria Gardens, and the Ice Cube, German Christmas Market and many other events in Millennium Square.

Councillor Lucinda Yeadon, Leeds City Council’s executive member for digital and creative technologies, culture and skills, said:

“This year’s budget challenge is our hardest yet and we’ve had to review everything we do as a council. Basing VisitLeeds within our outstanding art gallery building saves a considerable amount of money. This move allows us to re-focus resources on developing exciting new ways of delivering information online- where people have demonstrated they want it most.

“Only a fifth of people arriving in the city do so through the railway station, whereas the new location is at the city centre’s public events and cultural heart. We are modernising the service in line with how people access information and visit the city.”

While Leeds City Station attracts large footfall, only 20% of people arriving in Leeds come through it. Around 60% of the people using the Visitor Centre at the station are believed to be simply passing through, including many commuters. Selling travel and events tickets had become a key part of the centre’s role, but they are both now widely available elsewhere and increasingly sold online. Since 2010 the number of online visits to the Visit Leeds website has increased tenfold, from 137,000 to 1.1 million.

Users of Metro cards should be aware that the new centre will not be selling the cards.

A West Yorkshire Combined Authority spokesman said:

“Work is already underway to establish a Payzone outlet for MCard products in the station as soon as possible and in the meantime people can now purchase or top up MCards at 700 Payzone outlets across West Yorkshire.

“With Payzone stores being open seven days a week, from early morning until late evening it’s now more likely people will be able to top-up closer to home at their own convenience. However there are two Payzone shops close to Leeds station, the Loco shop at 27 Wellington Street and Trinity News on Albion Street. Looking further ahead, people will in the future be able to buy MCard products online.”

The conditions of the station premises lease restricted sales to tourism-related activities and travel tickets, but the new council-owned venue enables an expansion into a wider shop, café and other potentially cash-raising and tourist-attracting ventures.

None of the other English Core Cities- the group that comprises all the largest regional cities- have their visitor centres located in railway stations. Future plans for expanding how people can access quality visitor information about Leeds include “pop-up” temporary stands and greater use of portable technology to support city ambassadors and other people working at large events.

Notes to editors:

*Britain from the Air features stunning overhead perspectives of landscapes and landmarks and has been viewed by over 5 million people in the UK and millions more when it recently toured to Shanghai as part of VisitBritain’s GREAT campaign. Further information can be found here on the Royal Geographical Society’s website: Britain from the Air

For media enquiries please contact:

Donna Cox, Leeds City Council press office (0113) 224 3335

Email: donna.cox@leeds.gov.uk