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Leicester’s Waterside regeneration reaches ten-year milestone

Published on Monday, February 6, 2023

9 minute read

Friars Mill birds eye view

LEICESTER'S Waterside regeneration project will reach its tenth anniversary this year and some major milestones have been achieved along the way.

The city council effectively kickstarted the ambitious transformation of the Waterside area in 2013, when it stepped in to protect and redevelop the derelict 18th century Friars Mill building after it was badly damaged in a fire.

Since then, the regeneration of Waterside has seen the construction of 1,000 new homes, the development of 9,000sqm of new office space, and the creation of around 500 new jobs. It has also helped attract private investment of about £300 million into the city.

City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said: “Friars Mill was the catalyst for the transformative regeneration that we now see happening at Leicester’s Waterside.

“The area had suffered badly since the 1980s, with the closure of key industries leaving many sites neglected and underused. For decades, it had been an area with immense but unrealised potential.

Waterside derelict factory circa 2012

Waterside derelict factories circa 2012

“Following the blaze that gutted the Donisthorpe factory at Friars Mill in 2012, it quickly become clear that the council needed to intervene. We had to act to protect and preserve this important historic building but also to reverse the decline in the wider Waterside area.

“In 2013, we purchased the Friars Mill site with a  view to restoring and redeveloping it, thereby sowing the seeds of a wider vision to transform Waterside into a vibrant, attractive area to live and work in.

“I am very proud of what has been achieved in the ten years since. A long-neglected area of derelict industrial land has been brought back into use. We’re creating a thriving neighbourhood with great places to live, space for businesses to flourish and excellent access to the city’s beautiful riverside.”

The ambitious vision for the regeneration of Waterside was launched in 2015 with a new council-led masterplan that set out a clear planning vision to transform the long-neglected area, with new houses, apartments, office development and high-quality public spaces.

Friars Mill blaze
Friars Mill open for business

The following year, the painstakingly restored Friars Mill opened, offering over 2,300sqm of new managed workspaces and 1,000sqm of new offices.

“In 2016, the Waterside area was still in a sorry state with large areas of derelict and unused land and buildings that were falling into disrepair,” added Sir Peter. “The completed Friars Mill stood as a beacon for the wider regeneration of the Waterside. It showed what was possible with the right investment and demonstrated our intent to transform this important part of the city.”

It was in 2016 that the city council successfully bid for legal powers to buy the 17-acres of land needed for the first £80million phase of regeneration and appointed its development partner – Keepmoat Homes – to deliver it.

Waterside site clearance
Waterside birds eye view of redevelopment in progress

The council took vacant possession of the site in 2017, and demolition work began the year after.

Now, work is well under way on this first phase of council-led regeneration which will be delivering over 360 new homes including 75 affordable supported living apartments, over 5,000sqm of new office space, and new open spaces. The first 100 homes are now complete and occupied, and the first phase of new office development is already helping to create hundreds of new jobs.

New homes at Waterside
New offices at Waterside

It has also acted as a catalyst for major private development in the area, helping to attract around £300million of new investment into the city. This includes the creation of an additional 900 new apartments; new accommodation for around 1,000 students; a new school for 1,200 pupils; more much-needed office space; two new hotels; and, the stunning redevelopment of the historic former Leicester Central railway station, just off the inner ring road.

City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “The regeneration of Waterside represents a tremendous boost to the city’s growth and prosperity. It’s been ten years since our purchase of a derelict and fire damaged historic factory kickstarted this ambitious project and it’s extremely encouraging to see the positive impact that has had over the last decade.”

The first phase of council-led regeneration is now expected to be complete in 2027.


Picture captions (from top):

  • Bird’s eye view of Friars Mill and surrounding development
  • The Waterside area had suffered badly since the 1980s with the closure of key industries leaving sites neglected and underused and buildings empty and derelict
  • The Donisthorpe factory building was nearly lost to fire in 2012. Following its restoration, the building has served as a beacon for the wider regeneration of Waterside.
  • Bird’s eye views showing the extent of the site earmarked for the first phase of council-led regeneration.
  • Work is now well underway, with the first 100 homes are now complete and occupied, and the first phase of new office development has already helped to create around 400 new jobs.