In June 2016, Leicester City Council put two plots of brownfield land, on the fringes of Western Park, up for sale. These plots were once home to several cherished, well-known, and respected facilities including a former school. For a variety of reasons, they had closed their doors one by one in the preceding years. The decision to sell came without any initial consultation with anyone and despite many different groups previously working to secure community space within the empty buildings on the sites.
The land is not part of the ‘open space’ designation that covers Western Park on the Leicester City Local Plan (2006) proposals map and instead falls within this definition of “previously developed land” (brownfield land). Changing spending priorities of central government have driven the policy of selling off council property assets that are deemed surplus to requirements but the truth is that the future of this land was all but mapped out by national and local town planning policy many years ago. The buildings have existed since the late 1930s, and in the context of how land is designated for town planning purposes, the sites are classed as “previously developed land”, or as more commonly described, brownfield land.
150,000 new homes need to be built in Leicestershire to meet the demand for new housing by 2050. Brownfield sites within the City are prime land and planning policy is undeniably stacked in favour of that. The scale of the land and buildings for sale made it very difficult for any community group to raise the funding required to purchase and redevelop the sites alone.
A public meeting was held to explain the difficult decision that needed to be made by the community about the future of the sites. It was decided by a majority vote that the only viable and sustainable option was to work with both the Council and the potential buyer, Parmar Properties in order to secure a community space for generations to come. Alongside this, there would be a building provided for a community cafe on the former school site.
The Western Ward Community Enterprise (WWCE) was officially formed to work on fundraising for these two places. It is a community-led organisation and everyone involved is a volunteer.
If you have any questions about WWCE & Project Hive, send us a message here.