My £19m plan will be better value for city, says Leicester Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby
Sir Peter Soulsby has said the £19 million he intends to use to transform Leicester city centre will have a greater benefit than the cash spent building the Curve theatre.
The city mayor said the cost of his Connecting Leicester vision, which includes more pedestrianisation and a new public square, was modest compared to the "vast sums" pumped into the flagship arts venue.
Sir Peter said: "Connecting Leicester's costs are £19 million, a large sum, but I think it is reasonable and it will have a much greater impact than the money that was spent on Curve.
"That was the most disastrously overspent project in the city council's history. In fact, disastrous is a mild way of describing how that project was managed.
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"There was no doubt there was a powerful case for the building of a new theatre but it was very badly managed.
"The initial cost of the project to the council was supposed to be £4.4 million, but in the end it spiralled to £36.8 million."
Press reports have quoted Sir Peter as saying Curve was the most disastrous project the city had seen but he clarified his position to the Mercury.
He said: "I am not critical of the finished product – Curve is a wonderful theatre – or its management, for whom I have nothing but great admiration. It is the way it was managed by the council at the time."
Curve opened to critical acclaim in late 2008 – a year behind schedule – with a final cost of £61 million – £35 million over budget.
Sir Peter added: "I am not sure it was put in the right place. It is a very constrained site and presented design difficulties and extra costs. It would have been worth spending time trying to find a larger site."
Councillor Ross Willmott, who was the Labour leader of the council when it embarked on the Curve project, said: "I think his comments are absurd. He should focus on his job running the city. It does no good talking down a project that has proved a success."
Coun Willmott said Curve's costs had escalated from original budgets, but he claimed that happened under the Liberal Democrat and Tory administration that succeeded his.
An Audit Commission report into the Curve project said the city council, which had been run by all three major political parties from the project's inception to its conclusion, was responsible for cost increases.
Coun Willmott said he supported Sir Peter's Connecting Leicester vision, which also includes pedestrianising more streets in the city centre and creating the new public square – Jubilee Square – in St Nicholas' Circle. He said: " like what he is proposing but don't see how comparing it to Curve serves a purpose."
Critics have questioned the expense of Connecting Leicester, which is under consultation.
Miguel D'Almeida, who runs a coffee shop in Guildhall Lane and is chairman of The Lanes Traders Association, said: "Jubilee Square is an expensive ego project for the mayor. By taking the car park out of St Nicholas' Circle he will take our trade away."