Greenhouse Leeds Eco-development: Regeneration Scheme or Gated Community?

Greenhouse LeedsLast Saturday I went to the eagerly anticipated public opening of the Greenhouse development in Beeston, just down the road from where I live.

Greenhouse is a groundbreaking new sustainable eco-development, pioneering and innovative with environmental credentials that are said to be unrivalled in the UK. A multi-use residential and office space complex, it packs in a lot of functionality, as well as seemingly every possible kind of new technology to ensure it is as low carbon, energy efficient and economical to occupy as it is possible for a building to be. It has already won a host of property design and green awards and commendations and is on the shortlist for many more.


Our guided tour round the building was inspiring. Every aspect of energy use and reuse has been carefully considered and optimised for efficiency. From the wind turbines and solar panels on the roof to the heating/cooling exchange system that ensures nothing is wasted. Bold new technologies like the 80m underground bore holes that access energy from the thermal aqua layer meet obvious efficiencies like the economy of scale in having a single boiler system serving all flats. It all adds up to utility bill savings in excess of

Recycled plastic door numbers£600 or 60% per year per flat. The hippies will love the 100% recycled plastic door numbers and 100% British wool carpets, and the geeks will love the graphs on their flat’s TV screen, tracking their daily energy use and planning their commute via the networked public transport infrastructure.

I labour in mentioning all of this because it really is impressive stuff on an 100% organic British woolarchitectural, technological, economical and environmental level. If all buildings were made to this standard and with this amount of thought gone into squeezing every last bit of use out of every single transfer of energy, the world really would be a better place.

And what a wonderful choice of site. Sitting towards the Holbeck end of Beeston Road, Greenhouse is part new build and part refurbishment of the former Shaftesbury House, a large five storey brick hostel for working men and woman, originally designed in 1936 by George C. Robb, assistant to RAH Livett. A lodging house that improved standards of living for around 500 workers in the area, it was built in the modernist era using methods of construction and housing concepts considered revolutionary at the time. Fitting, then, that Greenhouse developers, Citu, should choose the Shaftesbury House site to revolutionise modern construction again in 2010.

But there is one thing about this whole concept that sits really uncomfortably with me.

The Greenhouse website says:

“When planning the Greenhouse we thought about how it would fit in with existing architecture; how it will impact on the local economy; and how it could enhance the lifestyles of existing residents”

Yet this striking example of success and modernity sits amongst some of the most deprived areas of housing in the city, and the clean whitewashed walls of Greenhouse impose themselves rather incongruously on their surroundings. In terms of enhancing the lifestyles of the existing residents of Beeston, I cannot see how this is true. If the intention is meant to be aspirational, it stands only as a symbol of what for many local people is unobtainable.

Greenhouse Art SpaceI was most excited to learn that the development would contain an art gallery, showcasing the work of local artists, and a deli café selling locally grown organic produce. In terms of regeneration, this engaging use of space is exactly the kind of thing that Beeston needs, promoting the benefits of making and growing. I was therefore saddened to learn that instead of forming part of a strategy of regenerating the local area, these facilities would be available to Greenhouse residents only.

On our tour, we were told that the developers:

“…chose Beeston specifically because we identified it as one of the strongest communities in Leeds.”

Why, then, would Greenhouse lock its doors to that community, keeping its residents separated from it? I asked this question of Citu and proposed the benefits that opening those gates would bring to the local community. They told me:

“I take your comments on board. I think we need to get it up and running first and then once we have an idea of what sort of things [the deli] is selling and the opening times etc. we can see how we can open up to others.”

Greenhouse allotment plotSo there is a glimmer of hope of me being able to pop in on my way home and buy some fresh, locally-grown organic produce. I truly hope that this is given further consideration. Because quite apart from the obvious immediate benefits for all of us Beestonians of having an art gallery and deli café on the doorstep (the first of both in the area), taking the step to extend The Greenhouse Deli - coming soon (but only to a selected few)a strategic open hand to all Beeston residents would mean that the Greenhouse values really are what they purport to be:

“At the heart of our values lies a desire to regenerate and enhance places using high quality distinctive architecture and interior design.”

…and that this is not simply the smiling façade of an (albeit ground-breaking) gated community.

Helen Robinson is a freelance marketer, copywriter and journalist in Leeds. Twitter: @BobbinsLeeds


  1. I can’t deny the Greenhouse is pretty to look at. I can see it right now from my living room window, both tall turbines spinning merrily in the wind (though don’t they remind you of those kids toys you get at the seaside to stick on the top of sand castles?) and the bright white cladding positively gleaming in the morning sunshine. It fair lifts the spirits, it really does. And let’s face it, anything is an improvement on the Bartons and the Malverns (I live here, I’m allowed to say that.) Thing is though, it’s just that; an attractive, rather alien, self-referentially superior, lump of architecture that’s just been plonked in the oddest of places. I can’t imagine going in there. It’s certainly not designed to be approachable or welcoming, the front door is more like an entrance to a corporate HQ than any residential space I know, and now they’ve surrounded the place with that hideous metal fencing (presumably strong enough to resist the Beeston hordes)it looks even more insular and forbidding. And, as for being part of the neighborhood, well I’m afraid I missed the open day . . . will there be another one next year I wonder? I did try to invite them along to Temple Works (a couple of hundred yards away, I can see both buildings from where I’m sitting) when they put out a call for local artists, saying I lived over the road from The Greenhouse and worked around the corner . . . I’m still waiting for a reply. I agree it would be lovely to take a peak at the gallery now and again and maybe grab some fine wine and expensive cheese on the way back from work, but somehow get the impression I’ll not be invited. I’m one of the undesirables (and I have to admit that fence brings out my inner anarchist, and I can’t walk by it without thinking of smashing a stolen vehicle right through it.) And if I want to grab a decent coffee I’ll nip into Delhicatessen over the road in Hillside . . . my mate Harvi always has a warm welcome for fellow Beestonites.

  2. Ah Phil, tis a shame. I can see why you feel as you do – I suspect lots of other folk in Beeston (also my home patch) feel the same… However, I’ve found the lads at Citu (the developers) VERY approachable and receptive, and really wanting to engage with the ‘Beeston hordes’ – although it’s difficult for them to do so, as they don’t live here. One of them Chris took time to come do an eco audit of one of the local primary schools, where I’m trying to develop an green action plan. And they gave a free tour round the building to a local youth group I help run: the 20+ youngsters genuinely loved it. Oh, and they’ve since offered work experience to one of the group. So they’re trying their best, I reckon. Email them on [email protected] or [email protected]… and try to suspend some of that cynicism!

    1. Ed – see below. Also, which youth group do you run? Great news on the work experience, that’s a really positive engagement story and it sounds like Citu are making efforts in this area.

      It’s true, South Leeds is quite a difficult area to know what’s going on and how to get involved unless you actually live here. This could be the beginnings of a good discussion about how we can improve on this. I’m sure your youth group would have some other great ideas too?

    2. I’m really not that cynical Ed. I knew the building back when it was a troubled and dangerous place (I ran mental health services in South Leeds once upon a time and shared lots of clients with Shaftsbury House) and honestly I’ve watched the transformation of the place with a mixture of awe and apprehension. They’ve done a wonderful job. The place is now visually very impressive and I’m sure the eco credentials are fabulous. Still, the architectural language is inward looking and strikingly forbidding, and the addition of that offensive metal barrier hardly helps community cohesion; I can’t walk by without thinking I might be doing something wrong, I’m some kind of problem, that I can look but not touch. Let’s face it, the fence is purely symbolic, even I could jump it if I had a mind to (and if I’d had a few too many in The Midnight Bell.) And it’s lovely that the developers are “doing their best” to engage with the community . . . but don’t you think it’s a bit late? Once the gates are locked and the locals barred from the deli and gallery it’s a bit rum to tell us this is “enhancing the lifestyle of the existing residents.” I may or may not be cynical, but that most definitely is doublespeak.

  3. Thanks for your comments, Phil and Ed.

    Ed, thanks especially for the heads up with contact details for the guys from Citu and with details of your positive experiences with them. I’ve emailed them to open up discussions about this debate so watch this space!

  4. Hi everyone,

    Thanks for all your comments and feedback. It’s great to see such passionate views about Greenhouse, whatever they may be. In response to some of your questions and concerns here are a few clarifications from us.

    Greenhouse is a project that is more than just a development to Citu, and our commitment to it sits alongside our commitment to work with the local community. Throughout the project, as Ed kindly pointed out, Chris Thompson our MD has worked hard to interact with local community groups to help involve, and inform the Beeston community of developments with Greenhouse. The culmination of this was our community launch event a couple of weeks ago, which we promoted heavily, to invite the people of Beeston and surrounding areas into Greenhouse to get feel for what it’s all about and the opportunity to ask questions openly.

    This was a real celebration for us of what had been achieved, but we also intended it to be a celebration we shared with the local community, to come together and be proud of regeneration in the area. I’m pleased to say it was a great success and we received hundreds of heartfelt comments from local people who really appreciated having Greenhouse as a neighbour, after the demise of Shaftesbury House.

    As part of the community launch event we worked with a number of local community members, to whom we provided free stalls, and we also ran an art competition and gallery, open to all, as we were looking to showcase creative talent from across the region.

    The gallery was created for launch and featured work from people that live and work in the local area. As part of the celebrations and work from the winners will be showcased around the building, but this was never intended to be an art gallery in the truest sense of the word, or a permanent fixture at Greenhouse. We will, however run other open day events, where we will look to do something similar, and of course everyone will be welcome to attend.

    With regards to the Deli, I think there may also be a misunderstanding there – this isn’t a fancy store, and won’t be selling exotic cheeses and wines, it is merely intended to provide for the residents and commercial tenants who may just want to grab a snack throughout the day.

    At the end of the day Greenhouse provides a home and offices for hundreds of people, and as with any commercial or residential development we must offer residents the security that they’d expect from any other building they’d choose to live or work in. This means we can’t leave the front door open for the general public, and this is part of the secured by design standards that any new building should adhere to.

    However, this doesn’t make it a gated community, far from it, (in fact it is only the car park that has a gate, not the whole development and we did hope to have a more modest wooden fence but were not permitted by the planners). We have since planted Pyracantha on the front fence which will eventually grow into a hedge covering the metal fencing and we will also be planting Ivy around the rest of the perimeter fencing. However this will of course take time to establish itself but it’s a long term solution that we are trying find.

    In terms of the look and feel of Greenhouse, our design brief was based on regenerating Shaftesbury House, which itself stood tall compared to the surrounding buildings, but we were keen to work with the existing building rather than knocking it down. I note the comments about the main entrance and reception area, but you’ll see from some of the original photography of the building that we have up in the foyer that this was one of the buildings greatest assets when it was originally built and for this reason we have tried to retain it’s style. Admittedly Greenhouse does have a strong identity, but a number of local people have commented that they see this as a real positive.

    We assure you that as a business, Citu is not an insular company, and are keen to get as involved in the local community as much as possible. Chris, our MD is soon to move into Greenhouse so he can spend more time at other community events and get a better understanding of how we can better serve the community. We have also moved our Citu office to Greenhouse from the city centre as we believe that in order to really make the building work and extend our reach and contribution to beyond the boundaries of Greenhouse we need to be more involved in the local area on a day to day basis.

    We intend to keep an open invitation policy with Greenhouse for as long as people take an interest and feel there are opportunities to learn from it. Throughout the next two months we have tours booked with a local school, The University of Leeds, a local church group and have also welcomed previous occupants of Shaftesbury house through the door as well as Beeston residents that have since moved away from the area.

    We are keen to support people from the area who would like to live at Greenhouse. Our cleaner and concierge are local Beeston residents and we have special offers on apartments for local residents. We are also hoping to engage with the local community further by working with local residents to design a planting scheme for Beeston road and will be making a sizeable funding contribution to this. We are also working out ways in which we can develop an off site wind turbine but that will not only benefit Greenhouse but support surrounding homes and businesses.

    Apologies for the rather long comment, but I just wanted to assure everyone that we are 100% committed to working together with local community and that we will continue to find ways to involve you as Greenhouse settles into the neighbourhood. We want everyone to be proud that Beeston houses the UK’s most pioneering low carbon development and benefit from the positive results this can bring for the area.

    I personally would welcome anyone that would like a tour of the building or who just wants to pop in for a cup of tea and a chat. My email is [email protected] and I’m here in the Citu office most of the time so please just drop me a line.

    Any further questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch,

    Kind Regards

    Fraser Stride, Director, Citu

    1. Thanks Fraser, having been involved in community development, events and what not I have a lot of empathy for the ways in which perceptions of a project externally take on their own life. (I have worked on both Shine, before it was and leading up to the launch, and Temple Works Leeds, as well as my own neck of the woods Armley)

      This website, as Helen points out, is a place where we hope to be honest, critical friends, and hope that we can facilitate a transparent dialogue. Evidently one of the challenges is that people form their views and articulate them quite passionately sometimes.

      I have great respect that you have listened, and composed a very articulate response, after all community building takes time, and it’s our consistent actions that we are judged by over time.

      As a website we take that responsibility seriously too, and hope that you will find this an open, mostly collegiate place to spend time.

  5. I should have also said our telephone number is 0113 234 6686 if you’d like to chat.


  6. Fraser – Thank you very much for taking the time to write such a comprehensive comment on the site. The Culture Vulture is all about promoting community involvement and engagement, so I hope this can be the start of some really positive discussions.

    As discussed on the phone & email, it would be great to meet up to continue the conversation. Please send over details of your availability so we can arrange.

    Does anyone else have any comments – good or bad – that they would like me to take forward to Citu about this development or about community engagement ideas as a whole? Shout up and I will be more than happy to put them forward and report back to you here.

  7. I also live in Beeston and I’m interested to read everyone’s comments. I can see both sides to this: the stark contrast between the striking new development and the area immediately surrounding it was always going to raise questions. But personally I’d much rather have a development like this, which has genuinely impressive eco credentials and whose developers appear to be listening to locals, than just any old development, or no development at all: the derelict Shaftsbury House wasn’t contributing anything to people in the local area.

    People are directing their understandable unease towards Citu and Greenhouse, but isn’t the problem a wider one? The obscene gap between rich & poor often goes unnoticed/ignored (not just in Leeds) – it’s just that here it’s a rare occasion when the two faces of the city have come together.

    It’s just the same situation in Holbeck – ironically a previous poster mentions enjoying a pint or two in the excellent Midnight Bell, but perhaps you could argue those living half a mile down the road in Holbeck ‘proper’ feel equally excluded from the gastropubs at the end of their road.

    Personally I think the likes of Greenhouse, the Midnight Bell etc are positive additions to the area and should be encouraged as long as they engage with locals where possible (speaking of which, could Leeds Brewery take over the Malvern pub please?!); but alongside them significant work needs to be done – urgently – to improve the living conditions of the people who already lived in these areas before they became trendy.

    1. Brilliant idea about The Malvern Simon, though I think The Britannia would be more Leeds Brewery’s style (once my favourite local pub, but what have they done to it!) I’m honestly not against development but I do tend to think that it generates some very deep distrust and genuine antagonisms that aren’t going to be solved by open days and outreach programmes, no matter how well meaning. I live on Beeston Hill and work right next to the Holbeck Urban Village in Temple Works (which is why I frequent The Midnight Bell, it has heat as well as a decent pint!) so I get a pretty stark lesson in the gap between rich and poor every day . . . I’m most definitely one of the poor.

  8. Thanks to everyone who has commented so far, it’s great to hear everyone’s thoughts and views.

    We’re meeting with Fraser on Wednesday next week so if anyone has anything to add to the debate or anything that they want to put to him, speak up and I’ll take your comments to next week’s meeting.

    Does anyone have any ideas about how they would like developers to ‘engage’ with them even more/better? All suggestions welcome, however ‘silly’!

  9. A big hello to the Beeston area!

    I have to admit I’m surprised by the debate on here to some extent. I’m a new resident of the Greenhouse where I’ve moved from the darkest of dead end, post-industrial milltowns and I will admit that in terms of the quality of the accommodation it’s a step up from what I’m used to.

    I’m no stranger to the hostility provoked by new ideas. I come from an area where the old boys in the pubs routinely grumble about ‘city-folk’ and their goings on (particularly since a large number of BBC execs decided to colonise a local historical town ‘because the architecture is sooo charming, and it’s blahdy convenient for the commute to Manchester’), and where the local mayor (usually a fat man in his mid-50s) would positively choke on his Yorkshire puddings were you to suggest the closing of a local greasy spoon in favour of a gastro-pub (whether it be good for the area or not).

    A good recent example would be the building of a new health centre, which illicited a fairly underwhelming response from the local public, most of whom agreed it would be fairly good for the area in the abstract, but that they couldn’t help noticing that architecturally it looked like a pair of eyebrows. Just what WAS that SWEDISH BLOKE drinking when he designed it?

    Since then it’s worth noting that the initial unease with its presence has died down, and though it represents a break from the norm, it’s slowly been incorporated into the daily life of the local area to the point where you hardly even notice it anymore. I think this is how the identity of an area evolves – things land suddenly, causing a stir, and then the area incorporates them into it’s routines.

    At worst I think the Greenhouse might remain a little aloof from it’s surroundings (but then admittedly, it’s a little architecturally aloof with it’s ‘ivory tower’ look). I don’t think it’ll damage Beeston as an area for that. What would be better of course would be if it could integrate and become part of an evolving local culture. I guess this’ll be the challenge for the developers and tenants – but ALSO the locals, because if genuine advances are met with cynicism, then what hope is there for the place being labelled anything other than a gated community, whether it intends to be or not (I certainly never thought of it as moving into one)?

    I’ve spent the last three years living on a canal boat and before that in student halls in Liverpool (which, if you’ve ever experienced them are hardly the haute couture of living standards) – so the Greenhouse with its eye-searing white plaster, laminate flooring and wi-fi access throughout is pretty much the lap of luxury as far as I’m concerned. Having said this I work 30 hours a week for just above minimum wage and I’m sharing with my partner and best mate to afford the flat we’re in.

    I’m not saying this by way of demonstrating my working class credentials, the point I’m making is that myself (and I suspect others living in The Greenhouse) and the people moving in with me are hardly your archetypal brainless toffs with some wacky eco-friendly ideals. If I’m honest I think what really swayed me about The Greenhouse was the fact that the council tax was relatively low, the living standards relatively high (which I was ready for after living on the canal for years – nice in summer, but no picnic when your boat freezes solid in the middle of January and you can’t get out of bed because it’s so cold) and I stood to save a packet on my utilities. I also liked the concept, and (call it vanity) I wanted to continue in my career of living in unusual places and situations whilst I’m still young enough to do so. That I’d be helping out the environment was all to the good, but it wasn’t number one on my list of priorities.

    I wanted to move to Leeds, and yes, on looking around the place, also wanted to move to the Beeston area. I know nothing whatsoever about where to go, what to do, what is good and what isn’t – so I’m looking to the locals really for recommendations – and dare I say it, new friends and aquaintances!

    I can’t help but notice that a lot of the negative comments are addressed to Citu ‘the developers’, when a dominant element of The Greenhouse is the people who’ve decided to live there! If I’d moved into a terrace down the road I wonder if our arrival would have provoked this kind of controversy?

    Ok, there’s something that suggests a shiny Swiss-capitalist pocketwatch about The Greenhouse at first glance, but I really think it’s got to be seen as more than the sum of its parts. I for one don’t intend to lock myself away in some gated community and experience nothing of the local life – if I wanted to do that I’d as soon choose a virtual reality simulator where I could live on the moon and be fed soylent green through a peg =D

    That’s got to be the point of contact I would argue. The developers are important, but the people who live there are going to provide the building’s character. Yes – a lot of them are going to come from outside places, but as food for thought I’d venture that given the nature of the development they’re probably going to be a quite open-minded bunch. Exclusion can only really breed exclusion here, and whilst I’m sure some people who move into this new development might be just the sort of aloof types to live in a gated community, an equal or larger number won’t be. It’s just a building when all’s said and done – it’s the people who live in it and who are behind the design and running of it that are going to make it what it is.

    Speaking of recommendations – are there any hot spots in the area of Beeston, or Leeds in general that three total newcomers could do with checking out? Want to get stuck in as and when I’m done unpacking!

    1. Apologies for not responding sooner. Welcome to Beeston! I live just around the corner from the Greenhouse and know the area reasonably well but tend to spend most of my time in Holbeck Urban Village, where I sort of work. It’s only a short walk and the pubs are a heck of a lot nicer (I haven’t been to The Imperial for ages even though it’s just up the hill from me . . . there’s a rather grim story about why.) If you’re ever around The Midnight Bell or The Cross Keys after work I’m usually around for a couple of hours so say hello. I’ll also get in touch with Fraser about putting some information on your internal system and maybe invite anyone who fancies it for a wander round the cultural hotspots of South Leeds. There’s a heck of a lot going on around the place right now but it’s best you come and see for yourself rather than listen to me pontificating. If you fancy a natter I’m always around Twitter (@philkirby) or nip down to Temple Works and I’ll put the kettle on.

  10. I’ve been following the conversion works from afar and look forward to seeing the building ‘in the flesh’ some time. It was my great uncle George Clark Robb (1903-80) that designed the original Shaftesbury House in 1937 whilst working for RAH Livett, Leeds’s innovative Housing Director. I have the original design drawings for the building and offered copies to the architects.
    I am involved in the architectural world, albeit in conservation. Perhaps you will therefore not be surprised that I had hoped for a more sensitive conversion scheme that retained the character of the original building. The building was austere, as befits its purpose, but was well detailed (as can be seen from the early photographs on the Leodis site), especially the brickwork. The Crittal company still manufacture steel windows (now double glazed), and insulation could have been internally applied.
    However, I realise that the building was in a parlous state, and without statutory protection, so am glad that it was converted rather than being lost altogether,


    Steven Robb

  11. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love studying more on this topic. If possible, as you gain additional information, it would be great if you keep updating your blog with more information? This can be very helpful.

    1. Hi all,

      Just following on from this post I thought I’d see if anyone (including family, friends and colleagues) would like to pay us a visit – at the end of this month as we’re celebrating the development’s first birthday with ‘Eco-toberfest’.

      We’d like to invite you to visit/re-visit Greenhouse and join in the Eco-toberfest celebrations on Friday 30th September and/or Saturday 1st October to see for yourself the thriving community that has grown.

      We have had a successful year – winning many awards and launching an Apart-Hotel and Conference Space – but it is the support and dedication of our residents, tenants and the local community that has has made us most proud.

      The sustainable ethos of the building has been heightened by the thriving community, including residents who run the on-site deli, tend to the allotments, maintain the free bike club and run the local pub quiz at the Golden Lion.

      Local MP Hilary Benn will be re-joining us on Saturday 1st October from 1pm to look back over the past year and what has been accomplished to date. We also have an Eco-Market, beer sampling and Bavarian Fare to keep you entertained.

      For more details or to RSVP please visit:

      If you can’t make it and would like to arrange a separate visit and tour around the development please get in touch.

      Looking forward to seeing you there.

      Many thanks,


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