Bid to block arena plans

SHEFFIELD is trying to block plans for a 12,500-seat entertainment arena due to be built with the help of Government money in Leeds.

Objections are being raised on the basis that the venue would threaten the viability of the arena in Attercliffe, competing for touring productions.

In particular, council and leisure bosses say it would be inappropriate for the Government-backed regional development agency, Yorkshire Forward, to help finance the Leeds project. Investment in one part of the region should not conflict with investment in another, it is argued.

"An arena in Leeds will seriously damage our business in Sheffield," said Steve Brailey, chief executive of Sheffield International Venues, whose leisure empire includes the Sheffield Arena, which opened 17 years ago.

Yorkshire Forward said this week that the Leeds venture would be more of a 'super-theatre' - entertainment focused and with fewer sports events than Sheffield - that would improve the city's economy and the region's cultural offering.

Civic leaders in Leeds have chosen a site near the Merrion Centre, with land at Elland Road as a back-up. They already have a potential operator, SMG Europe.

Leeds says it is missing out on the big music tours, with fans having to travel to places such as Sheffield, Manchester and Newcastle to see superstars such as Bob Dylan, Elton John and Bruce Springsteen. It is also argued that that the local economy would benefit.

The estimated cost is 30m, due to be split between the council and Leeds-based Yorkshire Forward, which is charged by the Government with improving the Yorkshire and Humber economy. The split has not yet been revealed.

Mr Brailey said he could understand Leeds residents and the council wanting their own arena and if it was just council money being used, he wouldn't like it, but would have to accept it.

"But we object if Yorkshire Forward is putting a significant amount of money into it. It is putting money into an arena that is going to compete with the Sheffield Arena, damaging the business and potentially costing jobs."

The Sheffield Arena, built with council funds as part of the World Student Games package, has a capacity of 13,000 and is run by Live Nation on behalf of SIV. It is profitable thanks to a wide range of events, from darts and horse tournaments to concerts and shows such as Strictly Come Dancing.

But SIV and the council are warning that Sheffield could be squeezed out by a combination of the arrival of Leeds and the existing arena in Nottingham. Up to 40% of Sheffield's audience comes from the Leeds catchment area.

Sheffield is questioning the business plan for the Leeds venue as "unrealistic", effectively maintaining there are not enough events to go around. It's also argued that Sheffield is the recognised regional location for sports events and regional economic strategies do not identify the need for an arena in Leeds.

Attercliffe MP Clive Betts said he would be lobbying Yorkshire Forward "very hard" to rethink its support for the Leeds project. "There is no justification for it and I'll be asking Yorkshire Forward to think through what they are doing."

Mr Betts said that when the Sheffield Arena was built there was a careful calculation of the size of the venue needed to reach its catchment area and market and to produce an operating profit. It was also on the basis that there would not be another arena in the area.

Yorkshire Forward said it has supported Leeds City Council over the arena project because of the significant impact on the city's economy.

A spokesperson said more design and development work was needed before the level of support could be confirmed, hopefully early next year.

"Leeds Arena will have a unique super theatre format and will be an entertainment focused venue, which is a more focused offer to Sheffield Arena which has greater opportunities to host sporting events.

Yorkshire Forward has given consideration to the effect Leeds Arena will have on Sheffield and our basis for support is we have concluded that it will benefit the region as a whole, as it will support the growth of Leeds and complement the city and the region's cultural offering."

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