David Parkin on the loss of a gem

I USED to think property developers were some of the most creative people in business.

The way they could look at a scraggy envelope of land or crumbling building and imagine the opportunities that could be created, phoenix-like from the flames.

Now all they seem to do is find a plot of land and stick student accommodation on it.

And I’m not talking about ropey bedsits, some of these towers of student apartments have bars, cinemas, gyms and roof terraces.

Well, you need to be able to relax after enduring 12 hours of lectures every week.

If I see a crane or a digger on a patch of land within five miles of Leeds city centre, I assume it will be a new development of student flats.

And plenty of historic buildings in the city are also being converted too, including mill buildings and a former school.

And now I see that plans have been lodged to redevelop a pair of listed buildings in Leeds most recently in use as a hotel and bar to create new student accommodation.

Stirling Prescient has submitted full planning and listed building applications to Leeds City Council for the redevelopment of grade II-listed buildings on Great George Street behind Leeds Town Hall.

One of them is a pub that has the wonderful name The Victoria Family & Commercial Hotel while the other has a less historic name – Shenanigans, an Irish theme pub which was once an O’Neill’s and also previously called the Felon & Firkin.

Sadly both are now closed, I’m assuming victims of both the pandemic and people’s changing drinking habits.

Built in 1865 as a 28 room hotel to accommodate visitors to the Assizes Court in Leeds Town Hall, the Victoria Hotel has an impressive Victorian exterior and ornate interior with high ceilings.

There is a long main bar area and two separate rooms all of which feature an array of polished wood and shiny brass.

The Shenanigans pub was formerly two separate buildings – a Masonic Hall and the ‘Central Tower’.

Now the developers want planning permission for the partial demolition of the existing buildings which have apparently deteriorated significantly, and to add a new rear seven-storey extension to Shenanigans.

A total of 67 studio student rooms would be created through the conversion of the existing buildings and the proposed new floorspace and they are also keen to rent out the rooms as an aparthotel outside the education calendar.

The developers also want the potential to put a bar or restaurant on the site and have said their proposal would have a “heritage-led objective of protecting and enhancing those aspects of the site which contribute positively to its significance and setting, whilst addressing matters which currently detract from the heritage value.”

Which sounds like the historic frontage of both buildings will be retained.

But it does seem sad that The Victoria’s beautiful bar will disappear.

There are many historic pubs in Leeds which remain open such as Whitelock’s, The Pack Horse, The Adelphi, The Palace, The Ship Inn and the Scarbrough Taps.

But for how long?

Losing The Victoria Hotel means one less decent boozer in the city centre.

But it sounds like it would be too expensive to restore the building to its former glory.

You just wonder whether it could be put to better use than as student accommodation?

It sound a good idea but it probably doesn’t add up.

And, in the end, that’s what matters to developers.

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TALKING of historic buildings, did you see the news that the Michelin-starred The Star Inn at Harome in North Yorkshire was devastated by a fire on Wednesday night?

The restaurant just outside Helmsley on the edge of the North York Moors National Park, run by chef Andrew Pern, is in a 14th century thatched building which was “reduced to ashes” after it caught fire just after 10pm.

It took over 40 firefighters to tackle the blaze and while newer parts of the building remain intact, it is thought that it will take at least a year to restore the part affected by the fire.

It must feel like a body blow to Andrew Pern and his colleagues after enduring everything that the last couple of years has thrown at the hospitality sector.

However he is already vowing that The Star Inn will return “bigger and better”.

Talking about ‘Yorkshire grit’ can be a cliche, but this is definitely a case where it will be needed in spades.

I have only ever visited The Star at Harome once, well before it gained its Michelin star, but it is one of those places where you want to return and I’m sure Andrew’s old customers and plenty of new ones will be back to enjoy it as soon as they can.

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IT came as no surprise to me that the company tasked with delivering passports in the UK has been forced to apologise for lengthy delays to people receiving their documents.

TNT has an exclusive contract to deliver travel documents for the UK Passport Office.

The three-year deal worth £77m was signed in 2019 but there have been a host of problems reported with delivery dates being delayed multiple times, some people left waiting a month for their passport to arrive rather than the standard two days and others having to cancel travel plans in the run-up to Christmas, while some passports have been lost.

I say I’m not surprised because when a member of my family ordered a new passport it was despatched promptly by the Passport Office but TNT took the best part of a fortnight to deliver it.

They went to the wrong address three times, continually returning the passport to the depot.

Unlike other delivery companies its drivers don’t call to check details, you can’t email TNT and their customer service telephone line goes unanswered.

I remember thinking that during the many months of lockdown when we and our neighbours had countless deliveries, I don’t remember TNT bringing one of them.

FedEx, Hermes, Parcelforce, UPS, DPD, Yodel and DPD but never TNT.

Then I read that TNT is owned by FedEx.

That’s a clever move operating one tainted brand while keeping the other one well away from it.

And if you can find a politician or civil servant in Government daft enough to sign an exclusive deal with you, even better.

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I WENT to see spoof psychic Clinton Baptiste in Ilkley last night.

He appeared as one of the ‘turns’ in Peter Kay’s hilarious Phoenix Nights TV programme.

With a flowing bleached blonde quiff and sparkly outfit, he is the outrageous creation of comedian and actor Alex Lowe.

His current UK tour, which is nearing its end, was postponed by a year because of the pandemic.

His show, called Stratospheric, is based on the premise that his first work after lockdown was an engagement in a casino in Las Vegas.

Except the show he was booked for was actually in a casino in Primm, a desert town that sits on the stateline between Nevada and California.

I went there years ago when I drove from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

It was called State Line then, but changed its name so it didn’t get confused with a town in northern Nevada called Stateline.

Only in America.

By rights, it should only have a petrol station and a diner, but actually has three casinos and a rollercoaster and is presumably there for those who can’t hang on to gamble before arriving in Las Vegas, which is 40 miles north.

“I know that in Las Vegas now it is 1.30 in the afternoon and here in Ilkley tonight it is 8.30,” Clinton told the audience.

“And I drove here through Keighley where it is about 1973.”

Have a great weekend.

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