Friday, March 16, 2012

Row over square in Leicester Labour circles

It's a good thing that the Leicester Labour Party is at each other's throats. Otherwise, with a Labour elected mayor and 52 out of the city's 54 councillors being Labour as well, there would be no debate at all.

Last week, on the eve of the Queen's hugely successful visit to Leicester, the mayor Sir Peter Soulsby announced plans for the creation of a Jubilee Square to commemorate the event.

Located at St Nicholas Place, the Medieval centre of the city, it would replace a taxi rank and park-and-ride bus stop with landscaped gardens with benches, trees and outdoor cafes. It would also allow the16th century High Cross monument to be returned to somewhere close to its original position.

As Soulsby told the Mercury:
This space has huge significance, linking the modern city centre with the old town. It is surrounded by historical gems – the cathedral, Jewry Wall, Wyggeston's House, the Guildhall, the castle and St Nicholas' Church are all close by, but they feel disconnected from the rest of the city.
Despite the cost and the pressure on council finances everywhere, I find myself drawn to this scheme too.

But over to Ross Willmott, the chair of the council's scrutiny committee and the dominant figure in Leicester Labour politics until a year or two ago. On his blog, Willmott asked numerous awkward question about the scheme, including:
Why are we now proposing to spend £4m on a square when we have just spent a fortune (£1.8m) on making it a site for the park and ride?
He also highlighted the Mercury's discovery that the idea of a public square at St Nicholas Place was first floated 20 years ago and hinted that it was the fault of Soulsby, in an earlier period of dominance, that it had not materialised then.

Back to Sir Peter Soulsby. He told the Leicester Mercury:
"If we're questioning the use of that square and area then I'd like to know who on Earth thought it was a good idea to build what is effectively a bus lay-by for £1.8 million.
The answer to that question is, of course, Ross Willmott.

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