Friar Gate Square’s hidden millions

Derby City Council paid over £3 million to Lowbridge (Derby) Ltd, the developer of the ‘Copper Building’ at One Friar Gate Square.

A Derbyshire Independent analysis of Derby City Council’s accounts has revealed that the city council paid nearly £3.5 million to the developer of One Friar Gate Square during the building’s construction. Previously, the city council had refused to disclose to local media how much of its regeneration fund had been allocated to the project to build the new office accommodation. Reports by contractors confirm that the build cost was £4.7 million, meaning that the council contributed almost 75% of the construction cost.

The office space stood empty for two years, until 2015, when a deal was brokered for the University of Derby to lease the building. The Derbyshire Independent has seen internal emails suggesting that some of the money provided by the city council might have been paid back, following the deal with the University, but repeated requests to the council to confirm the details of the financial arrangements have been ignored.

In April 2015, as part of the proposal for the University to move its Law School to the building, the developer submitted a ‘change of use’ application to the city council that included detailed architectural drawings featuring a secondary fire escape to cope with the anticipated numbers of students using the building. That fire escape was never built. On 23rd April 2017, under a Freedom of Information (FOI) request lodged by the Derbyshire Independent, Derby City Council was asked for sight of any references to the planning and building control requirements for fire escapes for the six storey building. The city council responded on 23rd May 2017 stating, “Information not held – this is because Planning does not require fire safety or fire escapes.”

On 15th June 2017, the day after the Grenfall Tower fire and well after the FOI request deadline, the city council sent a ‘Response 2’ email that included the statement: “Fire Safety requirements are set by Building Control requiring compliance with Part B of the Building Regulations 2000.” Significantly, the city council’s FOI response made no mention of the 2015 ‘change of use’ planning application which can be found here. On 20th June 2017, the Derbyshire Independent reported here that the fire escape staircase featured in the ‘change of use’ application had not been built but that the building still received approval from Derby City Council.

Local media reports during 2015 confirm that the University imposed a tight deadline on negotiations for the building’s lease and that the city council put together a special team to clear the planning application to meet that deadline. It is now evidenced that, after moving into the building in September 2015, the University moved to full occupancy of One Friar Gate Square in January 2016, without the secondary fire escape.

The questions are:

  • What percentage of the tax payers’ £3.5 million spend on a privately owned building has been returned?
  • What impact did the city council’s financial contribution to the building have on its planning decision?
  • Did the city council properly inspect One Friar Gate Square prior to giving its approval?

The University of Derby has admitted that it had knowledge of the inclusion of a fire escape in the application for ‘change of use’ in April 2015 but declined to comment further. Derby City Council has not responded to the Derbyshire Independent’s request for comment.

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