Leeds Council to sell vintage number plate to offset £59million budget shortfall

U1 was the first number plate to be issued in Leeds back in 1903. Credit: Leeds City Council

A city council is planning to sell a 120-year-old number plate as it tries to claw back £59million.

Leeds City Council says it has been exploring ways to generate income and balance the budget.

Experts say the sale of the U1 number plate, used on the Lord Mayor’s civic vehicle, could fetch a substantial figure which would be returned into the council's coffers.

The unique plate was exchanged by two former Lord Mayors of Leeds more than 120 years ago.

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 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 later also elected Lord Mayor of Leeds in 1938-39, retiring 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.

Debra Coupar, Leeds City Council's executive member for resources, said the sale of assets was "never something we take lightly" but "acute" financial pressures had forced the authority to take unusual steps.

“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," she said.

“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.

The current Lord Mayor of Leeds, Cllr 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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