Friday, 15 August 2014

The Mayor needs the wisdom of Solomon

I have been asked to write a provocative article for next week’s Mercury Business Supplement – so for an early sight of it by avid readers of Landmark’s blog site.

Peter Wilkinson

The Mayor needs the Wisdom of Solomon.

Currently the hot topic among Leicester’s property world is should Spearing Waite be allowed to occupy the new premium quality offices on Abbey Lane; built to be part of Leicester’s Science Park?

It is the classic dilemma that faces public sector decision makers: how to reconcile competing qualitative issues, which are just not numerically measurable. What is the right answer?

SDC Securities has built a Grade A Premium office on Abbey Lane as part of the deal for them to build an Asda superstore. As well as the public benefit of research office accommodation, Ingleby have provided a pedestrian bridge across the River Soar. This will help open up a large tract of vacant brownfield land in the heart of the City for development.

The use of the offices is restricted to Research and Development Business Uses to link in with the City’s ambition to have its own Science Park near the National Space Centre.

Clearly Spearing Waite, as probably the City’s largest independent Solicitors practice with a first class reputation, do not fit this criteria. But they need to expand and move into premium accommodation, of which there is a dearth in Leicester.

As a City we need to retain the higher order jobs that solicitors offer to help maintain the City’s ambition to have a high knowledge and skill economy.

And if there is nowhere else suitable we could lose Spearing Waite and their economic multiplier to an out of town location?

But does the City Council hold out on not granting permission for Spearing Waite to use this building? Is the Science Park ambition realistic in this location?

Another big ambition is to bring into use the substantial areas of derelict land lying derelict across the River Soar east of the Science Park. Areas that should be developed in the emerging property industry upswing. Such an objective should be easier with more prestigious operations, such as high quality large solicitor practices, close by.

I have been associated with the scheme in the past and indeed my company did the initial planning, for the superstore, offices and bridge. But I hold no brief for anyone now. I also now have no inside knowledge on the detailed strengths and negotiating positions of either side. So my view cannot be absolute.

On balance, with the information I have, I would allow Spearing Waite to occupy this building. However, I would also say that I would not criticise an alternative viewpoint.  It is just too close to call.

The decision is actually with the Council planning officers and Planning Committee members, not the Mayor. But he will doubtless have an important position of influence. He needs the Wisdom of Solomon.

Reconciling competing qualitative issues (that are critical for the City) is what makes the job of Mayor so interesting and challenging. Despite what some might say he is very well qualified to do this.

Peter Wilkinson