Growing a resilient food system in Leeds - Policy Leeds brief

Policy brief 1, SRI 28, 21 Sept 2020. Paola Sakai, Tom Bliss, Sonja Woodcock, and Andy Goldring

Download or view the full policy note: Growing a resilient food system in Leeds

Brief summary

Two workshops were held to look at how we can enable a climate resilient food system in Leeds that promotes health, sustainability and food security. They found that Leeds has many strengths and opportunities in this area, but will need the Council to show leadership and strategic vision to deliver the benefits. 


A resilient, healthy and sustainable food supply should be viewed as a matter of public good, as it underpins public health, social equality and environmental quality

Leeds has plenty of farmland, expertise, innovation, and excellent practice. Minimal interventions could deliver major changes and benefits.

We recommend that Leeds City Council sets up a high-profile task force to work with local stakeholders to create a local sustainable food brand, improve access to land for growers, strengthen economic measures to support a vibrant local food ecosystem, and promote education and skills development.

Covid-19 has uncomfortably revealed how exposed our food system is to external shocks. Further challenges are expected due to climate change and evolving trade relations. Biodiversity is being lost at alarming rates, while unhealthy consumption habits increase diet-related chronic diseases, putting pressure on health services. 

Leeds needs to be strategic and bold, to increase the climate resilience of its food system while promoting health, sustainability and food security.

Food system workshops

This policy brief is informed by two workshops. The first workshop, in December 2019, explored different scenarios that can drive the future of the Leeds Food System (PDF). In September 2020 a second workshop, ‘Pathway for a climate-resilient, healthy and sustainable Leeds Food System’, explored the Sustainable Local Food Scenario of the first workshop, to identify robust decisions capable of putting Leeds on track to a climate-resilient, healthy, sustainable and secure food system. 

Current barriers

A range of barriers to improving the resilience of Leeds’s food system were identified.   

Leeds operates within the UK’s consumption patterns that prioritise cheap food to release disposable income. This has led to over-consumption, poor nutrition, health and environmental problems. The externalised costs are supposedly met by health and environmental services, but only a small fraction can be rectified. 

There is a lack of land and access to land for growing, and minimal trade or engagement between the city and periurban producers. Food waste is comingled and sent to the Leeds energy recovery facility, wasting circular economy opportunities. There is a lack of investment in food projects or encouragement for start-up food businesses that promote health and sustainability. 

Strengths and opportunities

  • The workshops identified the following key strengths and opportunities in the Leeds Food System, which suggest that minimal interventions could deliver major changes and benefits:
  • There is increased interest from both the public and businesses in building climate- resilience, food security, food waste reductions, improving health and sustainability.
  • There is plentiful land in Leeds District that could be used for growing food, short-circuiting supply chains. Increasingly, food producers are seeking local markets and new business models. 
  • There are growing networks and activity. This includes strong recreational food growing, a network of community projects, food growing in schools, burgeoning urban farm network and examples of hydroponics, vertical farming, and aeroponic growing.
  • There is significant innovation and mentoring happening in the region, including by landowners, and a good education support network. 
  • There is a strong fresh food offer via markets, farm and independent shops, cafes and restaurants using local produce and online platforms during lockdown. There is good surplus food re-distribution networks and good practice around public procurement. 
  • There are already pockets of excellent practice within Leeds City Council, such as Catering Leeds offering an increased plant-based menu and successful efforts to reduce child obesity. 
  • Food is becoming more important in the National agenda, with the creation of the National Food Strategy, and funding streams are opening up. 


Leeds City Council should seek to appoint a Leeds Food System Cross-Council working group. There are many things happening in the city, but to upscaling them to deliver a city strategy requires city leadership. 

The working group should include all senior officers with food, land and/or other relevant responsibilities. The group should hold regular outreach meetings with local experts and producers in the Leeds/Yorkshire agricultural zone. 

A small investment in Council time and resources would deliver major changes.

The working group should create a city-wide food strategy that promotes climate resilience, health, sustainability, and food security. In particular, it should look to:

  • Create a local food brand / kite (‘Owl’) mark to encourage sustainability, health and food security. 
  • Embed food into local planning policy, improve access to land for growers, and establish routine consideration of food crops in tree planting and other carbon measures.
  • Grow business ecosystem by strengthening economic measures to make local and small-scale growing both viable and a major cachet for Leeds. 
  • Engage, educate and upskill residents and businesses, harnessing the local expertise and resources in schools, universities, businesses, community groups and charities.
  • Show leadership, drawing together stakeholders in academia, government, civil society and business, to ‘build back better’ our food system and green our city.

About the authors

Paola Sakai is a UKRI Research Fellow working at the Sustainable Research Institute, University of Leeds. She is a research associate of the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy, Global Food and Environment Institute,the Priestley International Centre for Climate and Water@Leeds, and sits in the LCC Resilience Working Group and WHIG.

Tom Bliss lectures Landscape Architecture at Leeds Beckett. He chairs Feed Leeds, and sits on FoodWise Leeds and Leeds Climate Commission Resilience Working Groups.

Sonja Woodcock is Coordinator for FoodWise Leeds, and an N8 Agrifood Knowledge Exchange Fellow at University of Leeds.

Andy Goldring Chief Executive of the Permaculture Association, and Central Hub Coordinator at the Our Future Leeds climate action fund project.

Further information

The views expressed in this brief represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the host institutions or funders. Paola Sakai wants to thank the support of the UKRI grant ES/S001727/1, Caroline Ofila for reviewing this brief and Juliet Jopson for her valuable input.

This is a joint brief by Policy Leeds and the Sustainability Research Institute Policy and Practice briefing series.

To cite this policy brief, please reference: Sakai et al (2020) Growing a resilient food system in Leeds. Brief 1, SRI 28. Policy Leeds, University of Leeds.

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