Leeds Kirkgate Market’s outdoor trading area could be set for a bright new look under proposals designed to safeguard the long-term future of this much-loved open-air shopping spot.

Leeds City Council’s executive board will next week be asked to approve the launch of a consultation exercise seeking people’s views on plans to bring an innovative food and drink venue to part of the outdoor market site.

The outdoor market has space for a total of 185 stalls, with around 85 of them being filled on a typical day.

This is a considerable figure – particularly given the gradual nationwide drop-off in the popularity of open-air markets – but at the same time the council recognises that it means a sizeable portion of the site is regularly left standing empty.

Provisional plans have therefore been drawn up to reduce the number of outdoor stalls, with the remaining pitches being positioned adjacent to the indoor market.

Should the scheme get the go-ahead, the newly-created space would then become home to a ‘container-style’ food village of the type already found in cities such as London, Manchester and Bristol.

The council has been approached by a number of potential operators who have expressed an interest in running an attraction of this kind at the market.

If approved, the venue is likely to be built from refurbished shipping containers and would aim to boost week-round footfall across the whole market site – indoor and outdoor – by bringing in a diverse mix of customers, with a specific focus being placed on appealing to children and families during weekend daytimes.

It would also complement previously-approved regeneration plans for a new hotel and ground-floor commercial units on the George Street side of the market.

The ‘container’ food and drink scheme would deliver a significant income stream for the council, putting the open-air market on a more secure financial footing following a period when the money generated by its stall rents has declined in tandem with occupancy.

The reconfigured outdoor area would still have enough space to comfortably accommodate the current level of trader activity, and would also remain one of the largest sites of its kind in the region.

Subject to approval by executive board members at their meeting next Wednesday (December 14), the consultation on the plans would involve a wide range of interested parties, including traders, customers and businesses that are based near the market.

The findings would then be considered at February’s executive board meeting along with any further steps that would have to be taken before a final decision on whether to press ahead with the scheme.

Councillor Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council’s executive member for economy, culture and education, said: “Leeds Kirkgate Market is a historic part of the fabric of life in our city and, as such, we are committed to doing everything we can to ensure it remains a modern, exciting and inclusive shopping destination.

“It is therefore important to explore imaginative new ways to make the best use of all the market space, particularly at a time when the council, like many other local authorities nationwide, is facing hugely-difficult financial challenges.

“If the consultation is approved, we will be encouraging as many people as possible to have their say on these plans for the outdoor market – and it’s crucial to stress that no decision has been taken on the proposals, this is an ongoing process and one that we are keen to ensure involves plenty of listening and dialogue.”

The council’s determination to keep Leeds Kirkgate Market at the heart of the city’s retail offer was underlined in 2021 with the production of a new five-year strategy for the site.

The strategy included plans for continued improvements to the market’s infrastructure, with more than £1m having already been invested in the building and refurbishment of units in its indoor section in 2019.

The council also provided a major package of support – including rent discounts – to help traders cope with the financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Occupancy levels in the indoor market are currently running at more than 90 per cent of lettable units, with its Market Kitchen street food hall proving a big hit since it opened in 2016.