Movement at last on Beeston Hill and Holbeck PFI scheme?

There’s been an ominous silence coming from the council about the future of a £180 million regeneration scheme for Beeston and Holbeck in the past six months.

Holbeck Towers, in November 2010, prior to demolition to make way for the PFI regeneration project

But today Leeds City Council finally broke its silence over what’s been holding up the troubled Little London, Beeston Hill and Holbeck Private Finance Initiative (PFI) scheme. And it’s statement offers a glimmer of hope that there could be light at the end of the tunnel.

The proposed contractor and funders have apparently told the council that they are making good progress towards financial close and have expressed optimism that the process is on the way to completion early in the new year.

In a statement, councillor Peter Gruen (Executive Member for Neighbourhoods, Planning and Support Services) said:

“The council is continuing to work closely with the relevant parties to get to a point where building works can commence on the Little London, Beeston Hill and Holbeck PFI.

“We are waiting for the contractor to finalise their funding and construction programmes for the scheme. All council approvals are in place and I would hope that a start can be made in the Spring, once the contractor has been formally appointed.

“The council is very much aware of the importance of the scheme to the communities concerned and will continue to do all it can to make sure work starts as soon as possible.”

Gruen, however, does issue a note of caution:

“Although I welcome the progress, we have been made promises before and the onus, however, is on the new company Sustainable Communities for Leeds and its funders to resolve these issues in a timely manner.

“For the communities in South Leeds, this is becoming a public test of confidence regarding whether the major banks have really turned the corner or not. This is a blue-chip scheme and the Leeds public will draw its own conclusions if there is continuing delay in investing in Leeds.”

Last month South Leeds Life community reporter Steve Williamson attended a meeting of the council’s inner south area committee at Leeds Civic Hall.

The committee is made up of nine South Leeds councillors, who were asked by local concerned resident Ian Pickup (of the Voice of Holbeck group) what progress had been made with the PFI as Holbeck rersidents were becoming increasingly frustrated at continued delays dating at least three years. Williamson wrote:

” This question was treated like an extremely hot potato being passed from one councillor to another until a promise was made to let the questioner know the position when the councillors had found out!  Given the many delays on the project and its importance to local residents it was very surprising that no councillor seemed to know what the position was or be in a position to provide an answer.”

At least with today’s announcement we seem to be a little bit closer to finding an answer – but some questions still remain.

The council has said in the past that delays – involving a government value-for-money review and one of the banks funding puling out – have led to increased costs. One now wonders how much the project now costs  and what might be now unaffordable.