Leicester City Council has just announced that they intend “to purchase the Zip Building, on Rydal Street – close to the city centre, for around £5.55million. The three-story building consists of 58 flats and bedsits [formerly used by students] which will be added to the council’s own stock of affordable housing.” They add: “The majority of the units (47) within the Zip Building are one-bed flats and bedsits”, and the Council say they plan to “invest up to £550,000 in improvements to the building”.
This is all fine – although I would like to see more details about the sizes of the student bedsits that the Council intend to house people in. However, if the Council had wanted to invest in good quality council homes, then it might have made more sense for them to spend this money on simply renovating Goscote House – a block of flats whose costly demolition is due to the completed next month. I say this because (in 2018) the Council estimated that the cost of renovating the 134 council flats in this block would have been just £6.5 million. (See my earlier article which was published on the Leicester Mercury’s letters page as “Reasons to keep city tower block,” March 23, 2018)
Rather unsurprisingly the cost of demolishing this block of flats (which is being paid for by the tax payer) has ballooned from the initial proposed cost of £3 million to “about £5million.” But more interesting still is the fact that the Council accompanied the revelation about the near doubling of the demolition costs with a newly revised figure showing that the refurbishment, if it had gone ahead, would actually have “cost over £21million.” (As reported by the Council in March 2021.)
The explanation for the increased renovation price seems to relate to the fact that it includes all costs related to keeping the flats in good order for the next 30 years. This long-term planning coming even though the City Council had previously stated that the flats were not safe and had to be demolished as soon as possible. But as the Council explained in their March 2021 update on the planned demolition:
“Although the building could be retained for about 30 years, refurbishment costs would be in the region of over £21million. Inspections would also be required every five years to guarantee the ongoing structural integrity of the building.”
So, it turns out that Goscote House wasn’t unsafe and wasn’t about to collapse after all, and so it could have been kept and renovated. However, it would make a lot more sense for the Council to stick with earlier planned renovation costs of £50,000 per unit as opposed to their updated estimate of £155,000 per unit, an outgoing which seems a little over the top to say the least.
 With such high costs in mind, one also wonders how much the City Council is planning on spending on renovating the 174 units of former nurses’ accommodation at Hospital Close, near Leicester General Hospital. These much-need housing units have remained empty since 2019 when the nursing staff occupying them were evicted by the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust so their properties could (eventually) be sold on to the City Council in March 2021 for £10.5 million. The Council had initially proposed that they intended to “spend between £3 million and £4 million bringing the homes back into use,” so let’s see what happens. (“People left living on abandoned eyesore estate in Leicester reveal their shocking experiences,” Leicester Mercury, September 1, 2021.)