Work paused on major city centre regeneration project

Plans for the regeneration of Leicester’s market place could be shelved, after the demolition of the old market infrastructure has revealed the “huge potential” of the historic space.

City mayor Peter Soulsby said the removal of the old roof and the heavy wooden stalls has “opened up views of the attractive heritage buildings” that surround the market area and highlighted the “dramatic scale” of the space.

Soulsby says he is now questioning whether reintroducing new permanent infrastructure onto the site would be the right thing to do.

Council officers have now been tasked with drawing up alternative proposals, which would see Leicester’s market traders moving to a purpose-built location next to the Food Hall – and would allow the former market site to revert to its original purpose as a meeting place in the city centre.

“I’m sure I’m not the only one who watched the old market roof come down and was blown away by what was revealed,” Soulsby said.

“As the demolition team cleared the site, I was struck by the scale of the space and the quality of the surrounding architecture.

“It made me ask myself if we were missing an opportunity to do something really special.

“If we install new permanent infrastructure on the site – with stalls that would be used for just eight hours a day, six days a week – we won’t be able to use this extraordinary space for anything else. And once those new stalls are in place, they’ll probably be there for the next 30 years.

“We therefore have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do something quite bold – and that’s to reconsider our plans and create the impressive, flexible space for large-scale public events that we currently don’t have in Leicester city centre.”

Under the new proposals, the city council would demolish the 1970s buildings at 12-20 Market Place to create a wide cut-through to Cank Street.

The space created would accommodate a mix of market stalls and container units in an attractive and modern trading environment, protected from the elements by a roof.

Soulsby added: “I met with representatives of the market traders this morning (Wednesday) to explain my shift in thinking and to talk through the ideas.

“While I fully appreciate their concerns about work being paused on site, I hope I was able to convey that I believe we have an opportunity to make a good scheme even better.

“The proposed location for Leicester Market is a brand new cut-through that would link Market Place with Cank Street and the shops and bars of St Martin’s Square. Footfall would therefore be high – and the market’s proximity to the popular Food Hall would create a strong food-themed destination.

“With Marks & Spencer announcing the closure of its Gallowtree Gate store, and with city centres everywhere becoming less reliant on traditional retail, it’s clear that Leicester city centre must keep evolving to ensure that it continues to be somewhere that people want to visit – and want to invest in.

“This new proposal would provide our market traders with the clean, contemporary and attractive market area they need – and provide the city with a striking open space that could become home to the Christmas ice rink, the summer beach, live performances, outdoor cinema, food and drink festivals, national celebrations, and even open-top bus parades for our brilliant sports clubs.

“Of course there’d be work to do to upgrade and refurbish the beautiful old buildings that surround the space, and to attract the cafés and bars that would help to animate it, but our intention would be to seek funding to support the conservation work and to work with development partners to bring new life to the area.

“I’m now convinced that the right thing to do is to pause work on the current scheme to give people a chance to have their say, and I look forward to hearing those views.”