It is the pride and joy of Leeds, a £60m “bling bowl” described as the best new concert venue in the world. But when Bruce Springsteen opens the Leeds Arena on Wednesday night, the Boss will ignite a bitter battle for musical supremacy between Yorkshire’s foremost cities.
The First Direct Arena, a 13,500-capacity glitzy addition to the Leeds skyline, has provoked a feud with Sheffield, where the city’s 12,500-seat Motorpoint Arena has enjoyed a 22-year monopoly as Yorkshire’s only venue large enough to accommodate the world’s biggest stars.
Sheffield’s MPs, led by David Blunkett, were told to “keep their noses out” after they lobbied against public funding for the Leeds venue, located 33 miles up the M1. The new rival promises a perfect viewing experience for every fan, the best acoustics in Europe – and an end to South Yorkshire’s domination of the live entertainment market.
When civil servants opposed funding the Leeds City Council-backed Arena, Lord Mandelson, in one of his final acts as Business Secretary in 2010, pushed through a £10m grant, issuing a ministerial direction overriding his official advice.
The row turned nasty when Greg Mulholland, MP for Leeds North West, urged West Yorkshire-based music fans to boycott gigs at Sheffield Arena, which claimed that the Leeds venue would wreck its business, reducing bookings by 62 per cent.
Steve Brailey, chief executive of Sheffield Motorpoint Arena’s owner Sheffield International Venues, claimed that the Leeds attraction’s city-centre site meant it would produce a traffic “nightmare”.
Leeds was given a boost when its arena, which has a unique fan-shaped design, was named the best new venue in the world by the US trade magazine Billboard. “Leeds has been the largest city in the United Kingdom without a major venue to hold music or indoor sporting events,” Billboard said.
Clive Betts, MP for Sheffield South East, said: “It wasn’t clear that there was a sufficient market in Yorkshire for two arenas. Our belief was that if the market was growing then the private sector and Leeds City Council ought to be able to fund it themselves. I’ve not been invited to the Leeds Arena and I won’t be going.”
But Keith Wakefield, leader of Leeds council, said: “The region encompasses 2.5 million people and there’s a huge demand for events. It’s taken us 20 years to crack it but Leeds is getting what it has always deserved, which is a fantastic arena with an amazing design, brought in at £60m.
“I’ve never quite understood the resentment from Sheffield. It’s small-mindedness for Sheffield to point the finger at Leeds. We’re getting world-class entertainers. I wish good luck to all the cities in Yorkshire.”