Plate expectations as historic registration could be up for sale

    A unique gift exchanged by two former Lord Mayors of Leeds more than 120 years ago could be about to help the city with unprecedented budget challenges.

    The sale of the U1 number plate, used on the Lord Mayor’s civic vehicle, is currently being explored by Leeds City Council, with experts estimating it could fetch a substantial figure in a private sale.

    Records show that when the Motor Car Act was passed in 1903, requiring all cars to have number plates, Leeds resident Rowland Winn, a motoring pioneer and founding member of the Automobile Association, bought the very first one issued in Leeds.

    When his friend Arthur Currer Briggs was elected Lord Mayor of Leeds that same year, Mr Winn gifted the U1 plate to him to use on his civic vehicle, and it has been used by Lord Mayors of Leeds ever since.

    Mr Winn, one of the city’s first car dealers, was himself later elected Lord Mayor of Leeds in 1938-39. He retired from public life in the 1950s and was awarded the Freedom of the City in 1956, in recognition of his contribution to the city’s life and prosperity.  

    Today, faced with bridging an estimated £58.4 million financial gap, officers across the council have been exploring a number of innovative ways to generate income and balance the budget.

    After consulting industry experts the council was informed the U1 plate could fetch a substantial amount, with all proceeds from any sale going back into the council budget and helping to protect front line services. The final value would be subject to formal valuation and would depend on the final sale process.

    The potential sale would also be subject to further consultation before it would be finalised.

    Debra Coupar, Leeds City Council's executive member for resources, said: “The sale of any assets is never something we take lightly and, in an ideal world, would not be something we’d wish to do. However, the financial pressures we are facing are simply so acute, we are being forced to look at all manner of options which we have never explored before.

    “After consulting with experts, it’s clear that the sale of this number plate gives us a one-of-a-kind opportunity to secure a significant amount of funding, helping us protect vital services where we can whilst having no tangible impact on the people of Leeds.

    “In the current circumstances, it’s an opportunity we can’t afford not to examine in more detail and our priority has to be to do whatever we can to balance our budget, meet the needs of residents and not risk being driven to the point of financial distress.”

    If the decision to sell the plate is approved, the council will appoint a private dealer to act on its behalf. It is estimated a sale would then take around three months to complete.

    If a sale is completed, the plate would then be replaced on the Lord Mayor’s civic vehicle by L6EDS, a plate also owned by the council, but which is substantially less valuable.

    Lord Mayor of Leeds, Councillor Al Garthwaite, said: “It’s astonishing to think that the story of this historic number plate began with a kind, congratulatory gesture between two friends more than 120 years ago.

    “I’m sure neither of those two former Lord Mayors of Leeds could have envisaged how valuable that gift would one day become. However, it is oddly fitting that the legacy of their friendship could be to potentially help their city when it is in the midst of such challenging circumstances all these years later.”

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