Historic factory ravaged by fire is bought by city council
A historic factory that was damaged by fire has been bought by Leicester City Council for more than £500,000.
Large parts of the 18th-century listed Donisthorpe building, in Bath Lane, in the city centre, was wrecked by a blaze this summer.
City mayor Sir Peter Soulsby immediately sealed off the structure, and surrounding parts of the site on which it stands, called Friars Mill, and sent in builders to secure it and start the restoration.
Yesterday, he announced he had completed the purchase of the properties on Friars Mill from the Bank of Ireland, which owned them and was looking to sell them.
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Sir Peter said the move was to preserve the buildings and prevent them falling into further decay and to try to encourage regeneration.
The city council said longer term options were being drawn up for the future use of the building, as part of a wider development strategy along that area of the River Soar.
In total, it paid £550,000 for the site which includes a pump house and buildings facing onto Bath Lane itself.
However, the deal has been criticised by Tory opposition councillor Ross Grant, who accused the mayor of not having a clear vision of what he wanted to do with the buildings. Sir Peter said: "The Friars Mill complex is the most significant group of listed buildings at risk in the city.
"Following the devastation caused by the recent fire, I took immediate action by using the council's powers to secure and safeguard the structure of this privately-owned building.
"Having considered the options for the future of these important historic buildings, I feel strongly that decisive action should be taken to protect them and to pursue their acquisition, so this key part of Leicester's industrial history can be preserved for future generations.
"As well as being locally important listed buildings, the Friars Mill complex also forms a central focus for the regeneration strategy for the Waterside area.
"I have asked my officers to prepare plans for restoring the listed buildings and bringing them back into use. I will also be looking at a renewed strategy for developing the Waterside area, which I hope will also encourage private sector investment in new development.
"There have been some disappointments around there with projects falling through but this gives us a direct stake in the area and we must take risks if we want to encourage others to invest."
But Coun Grant said: "This sounds dangerously like other acquisitions the council has made like the post office in Bishop Street, which has been disused since we bought it.
"At a time when we are supposed to be short of money, I'm not sure people will like to see the mayor showering cash on old buildings.
"The council should not be buying buildings then deciding what they can do with them."
But Stuart Bailey, chairman of the Leicester Civic Society, said: "It's great news because it keeps it out of the hands of developers who might knock the factory down.
It is the start of a heritage-led regeneration in an utterly derelict area. I think the council has got a bargain."