Sir Peter Soulsby First ‘Punishes’ then Rewards Property Developers

Earlier this year the Leicester Mercury celebrated the soaring profits of Loughborough based building firm William Davis, whose “earnings before one-off payments increased by 80 per cent to £4.6 million.”

Here in Leicester, William Davis is part of a joint venture with the Sowden Group, known as Ingleby Ltd. This is relevant because last year Ingleby was “fined for failing to maintain and clear” the site of a historic brewery (next to All Saint’s Church, in Highcross Street) “which was ultimately destroyed in a fire.” As the Mercury reported at the time:

“After the hearing, city mayor Sir Peter Soulsby told the Mercury: ‘It was an important case because the council needs to send a message that those who have ownership or care of historic buildings need to take action so they are not put at risk.’”

Yet bizarrely the fine imposed on Ingleby was barely a slap on the wrist, and the highly profitable building group “was fined £1,000 and ordered to pay £3,000 in legal costs and a £100 victim surcharge.”

Sir Peter Thanking Ingleby Ltd's Guy Higgins (of William Davis) and Roy Coley (of Sowden)
Sir Peter Thanking Ingleby Ltd’s Guy Higgins (of William Davis) and Roy Coley (of Sowden)

Ingleby’s disregard for the 17th century building located in one of our cities few historic conservation zones was sadly not entirely unexpected. Indeed, locals had been drawing attention to the fact that the All Saints Brewery site had been left derelict and uncared for since 2007. An article published in the Mercury in 2009 highlighted these concerns, and pointed out how even in 2009  Ingleby’s agent Tim Shattock was clear that “no firm plans had been drawn up” for developing the site.

Ingleby’s apparent lack of concern for the site is even more worrying when one considers that the Managing Director of Sowden’s (Roy Coley) had helped launch the Leicester Regeneration Company in 2002 to order to supposedly guide regeneration efforts in central Leicester.

The controversy surrounding the All Saints site continued into early 2010, when a local heritage group opposed Ingleby’s plans  — which were supported by the Council — to demolish the historic buildings. A move towards an attempted demolition that was no doubt motivated by Ingleby’s efforts to maximise the profits they could extract from their highly valuable real estate.

Yet such public opposition ultimately proved futile as six months later the site was ravaged by two arson attacks in one month. These two fires served to destroy the building, effectively resolving the problem in the favour of the property developers.

Subsequently after completing their planned demolition and leaving the land derelict for a further four years, Ingleby made a public announcement last summer that they have “drawn up plans for a £25 million complex” on the two acre site. At the time all that Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby could do was to describe the colossal project planned in a conservation zone as “very exciting“.

So earlier this week, evidently with even more excitement, Sir Peter “announced Leicester developer Ingleby will be given the job of redeveloping” the recently demolished former site of Leicester City Council’s New Walk Centre headquarters.

Rubbing his hands with glee Sir Peter was reported as saying that it will “be a very attractive development around a new public space in a prime site.” A prime site that the public first had to pay £4 million to tidy up, to get it in a fit state to hand over to private sector profiteers.

After mentioning this gift from the Council to private companies, Sir Peter clarified that the Labour Council would not be bankrolling the construction of the new buildings. Now there is a surprise! But importantly no mention was made by Sir Peter of how much the prime real estate had been sold for: let’s just hope that he got more than the £1,000 that Ingleby had been fined earlier this year.

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