Secret talks seal Leicester bridge's fate
Leicester's historic Bowstring Bridge and Pump and Tap pub will be knocked down to make way for a swimming pool, the city council has decided.
The council's cabinet made the decision behind closed doors yesterday, despite a last-minute legal challenge by the Leicester Mercury to allow the press and public to be there when the decision was made.
Dozens of protestors opposed to the plans stood outside the Town Hall as the decision was taken.
Demolition could now go ahead by January to allow De Montfort University to build a pool and other sports facilities in Duns Lane, off Braunstone Gate.
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Before the meeting, lawyers representing the Mercury wrote to the council stating it was wrong to take the decision behind closed doors because of the substantial public interest.
This newspaper argued that people should be able to hear the discussions and decision. Failing that, we urged the council to postpone a decision in order to consider our request. However, the cabinet still decided to hold the meeting in private, believing that the "commercially sensitive" information involved had to be kept private.
It decided this was because the report included the cost of selling land, details of the parties involved and details of how much has been set aside by the council to demolish the bridge.
The Mercury revealed details of the sell-off last Friday after getting hold of a leaked confidential report.
Council leader Ross Willmott said the decision to publish had been "irresponsible" and would not change their mind.
He said: "There are more than sufficient reasons why it would not be in the public interest and why we would not take this in public.
"It is something that the general public would understand.
"To suggest that we are trying to keep it secret is beyond belief. The decision was taken in 2005.
"This report brings forward the arrangements which hopefully lead to the development of something that's for the benefit of the public." The council agreed to spend up to £472,000 demolishing the Victorian bridge, which will go out to tender.
Cabinet member for regeneration councillor Patrick Kitterick added that the Mercury's decision to publish could cost the taxpayer a "six-figure" sum because companies know how much they have budgeted for, and they had hoped for a deal much lower than £472,000.
Mr Willmott said: "It is not inconceivable that companies might now come together to get close to that. They could operate as a cartel."
Yesterday's decision means the council will remove the bridge and sell the remainder of the viaduct in Duns Lane, and adjacent land to the university for an initial £1 fee.
The university will knock down the remainder of the viaduct, demolish the Pump and Tap pub and apply to build a £6m sports centre.
The university will give a second payment of about £250,000 to the council for the land. Another payment of £500,000 will be made as part of a planning agreement.
Both parties say the sports centre will be available for public use.
Thousands of people have opposed the plan to knock down the bridge and the pub since it was first suggested in 2005.
An online Facebook group called Save the Pump and Tap and Braunstone Gate Bridge has more than 3,000 members.
Founder Lee Mullen said: "There is clearly a lack of democracy and transparency in local government here in Leicester.
"They have to ask themselves what gives people a sense of place in Leicester. It is not the local Asda, a new swimming pool or Fosse Park, it is our heritage like the Bowstring Bridge and the Pump and Tap."
Beaumont Leys resident Paul Southwood joined the protest outside the Town Hall. He said: "Nothing is safe at all now in Leicester. We are here to show our disgust at how the council is acting.''
West End resident Miriam Holland, 24, said: "The people of the city love that bridge and want it kept. "
A bid to get the bridge listed by English Heritage is the last chance campaigners have to prevent it being demolished.
Read comments on the Mercury's exclusive Deal set to seal bridge's fate