Coventry city centre is about to undergo the most extensive and significant change since it was originally built in the post-war years. Developers Shearers, in partnership with the City Council, has put forward a major redevelopment scheme known as City Centre South. The scheme follows from a previous scheme approved in 2012 and has been amended because of the changes in peoples shopping habits. The new scheme contains fewer shops and many more houses. It focuses on a building called the Pavilion, a curated building with a Covent Garden feel, which replaces the long sought after Department Store.
Below we publish in detail the Coventry Society’s response to the planning application. The deadline for comments was 2nd January but the Society was granted a one week extension. It is our view that such a major scheme as this, which will impact on our lives for half a century, should have had a proper public consultation exercise. We would encourage any member of the public with views about the scheme to submit them even though the deadline has passed. The reference number of the main application is OUT/2020/2826 and you can see the application details here:
THE RESPONSE OF THE COVENTRY SOCIETY TO THE HYBRID PLANNING APPLICATION OUT/2020/2826 – CITY CENTRE SOUTH
The Coventry Society supports the regeneration plans for this part of the City Centre and the linking of these plans with the Friargate and Coventry Railway Station development. We particularly welcome the improvement of Hertford Street to complement and enhance the work already undertaken by the City Council to open up the street to Broadgate and to create an attractive route between the station and the city centre.
We also welcome the retention of the Market and the plans to improve its environmental context.
Given the Climate Emergency one might have expected to see a more spirited and clearer response to the climate issues likely to affect such a development over its lifetime. We welcome the plan to connect the scheme to the Heatline Project and reference to the use of solar panels. However, it is disappointing that there is little reference to the need to implement strategies for water and energy conservation in the building blocks and for ‘greening’ and canopying the public realm so as to shade the public footways and squares in summer and provide shelter from stormier weather. WE RECOMMEND THAT THESE ISSUES BE COVERED BY PLANNING CONDITIONS
The Coventry Society supports the proposals for up to 1,300 dwellings as part of this application. This volume of dwellings corresponds, felicitously, with the average number of dwellings per annum required by the Coventry Local Plan 2017 to 2031 (24,600 new homes over the Plan period 2011-2031). It represents 5.3% of the requirement over the Plan period. Our support for housing in the city centre is consistent with our previously expressed views on housing in the City Centre Area Action Plan and the Coventry Local Plan. Indeed, we welcome the increase in housing numbers now proposed compared to the Area Action Plan.
The Local Plan (p 65) refers to Coventry’s objectively assessed need for affordable housing as 12,000 homes (2011-31) or 600 annually; some 28% of total housing growth. Policy H6 ‘Affordable Housing’ seeks a developer contribution of 25% towards the provision of affordable housing on developments of 25 dwellings or more or over 1 hectare. In this application such provision would lead to the creation of up to 325 affordable homes.
Furthermore, Figure 4.1 in the Local Plan identifies the city centre as an area of low existing social housing provision. In such areas Policy H6.4 seeks the provision of 15% social/affordable housing and 10% intermediate housing. It notes that such provision “will help meet local affordable housing needs and create greater tenure diversification, improved housing pathways and the rebalancing of local housing markets”.
Policy H6 further notes that where the level of affordable housing cannot be provided, including for reasons of viability, robust evidence must be presented to justify a reduced or alternative form of contribution. In response, the applicant (in Chapter 7 ‘Affordable Housing Statement’ of the ‘Planning Statement’) notes that the ‘development is not able to support the delivery of onsite affordable housing or a financial contribution to offsite provision’. The suggestion (in sections 7.7 and 7.9 of the Chapter) that future stages of the development could increase viability is a mere platitude, given that this application is in Outline only, with no initial stage foreseen. As result, the offer of a review mechanism in the Section 106 agreement, which would be signed between the developer and the City Council, for a Viability Statement to be submitted on a phased basis is without merit.
We note, with concern and regret, that a financial viability assessment is confidential. The offer of an executive summary after the close of public consultation is unacceptable. Full public disclosure of the reasons why the developer is not prepared to meet the Council’s reasonable policy requirements for affordable housing should be made.
The failure to commit to the provision of affordable housing in this proposal flies in the face of the investment of £95.5million by the West Midlands Combined Authority to ensure its viability. The Authority, as recently as December 2020 (in the Coventry Champion), has noted its desire that see that 20% of all homes built are affordable. The West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street, has said (personal communication 31/12/2020) “City centre developments are, by their very nature particularly challenging. We would however, still hope that in considering the planning application, Coventry City Council would seek to maximise the proportion of homes that could be affordable”.
There’s a clear issue here between the underpinning of Coventry’s largest city centre redevelopment since the city’s post-war reconstruction by £95.5 M of public money and the developer’s reluctance to provide an appropriate number of affordable homes (260 units: 20% of 1300) that the WMCA is pressing for in Coventry.
Therefore, the Coventry Society OBJECTS TO THE FAILURE OF THE APPLICATION TO PROVIDE ADEQUATE AFFORDABLE HOUSING.
The Coventry Society supports the proposed plans for retaining and re-using the existing public art. The Society would be happy to assist with any group set up to oversee the implementation of the proposed Public Art strategy.
Whilst the production of new public art is mentioned in the submitted documents no specific proposals are put forward. We RECOMMEND THAT THIS SHOULD BE COVERED EITHER BY CONDITIONS OR WITHIN THE SECTION 106 AGREEMENT. We believe that a 1% contribution would be reasonable.
The scheme changes the nature of the city centre, moving it from a typically four storey centre with point blocks to close vistas, to a high rise neighbourhood. Whilst we do not disagree with this in principle we feel that there are some areas of the development where the plans are too extreme for their environmental setting:
- Block D on Queen Victoria Road is in our opinion far too high and has a clumsy relationship with the new block on the other side of the new access (Block A1). We also feel that the proposed height (both maximum and minimum) will create an unacceptable environment for residents of Vicroft Court, which is only four storeys high. We feel that the block should be the same height as its partner block on the other side of the new access. WE OBJECT TO THE HEIGHT LIMITS SET FOR THIS BUILDING AND WOULD RECOMMEND THAT THE DESIGN PRINCIPLES BE AMENDED TO LIMIT THE HEIGHT TO MATCH BLOCK A1.
- Block C on Warwick Row. The height of this block makes it over dominant in the view from Greyfriars Green Conservation Area and the Listed Reform Club. In our opinion the “minimum height” proposals should be the “maximum height” and WE RECOMMEND THAT THE DESIGN PRINCIPLES BE AMENDED TO LIMIT THE HEIGHT OF THIS BUILDING AS SUGGESTED.
The Coventry Society understands that regeneration involves making difficult decisions balancing the loss of historical features in the hope of achieving a better environment in the future. In the case of this hybrid application it is even more difficult as it is not possible to see what is proposed for the future and decisions therefore have to be made “blind”.
The society believes that the Environment Statement gives too little weight to the value for some of the assets that are to be demolished. Bull Yard, City Arcade and to a lesser extent Shelton Square are an important part of Coventry’s post-war story. They have a human scale and are well designed, although allowed to deteriorate due to lack of maintenance. They have features that are of international historical importance, such as the roof-top car parking.
The response of the Twentieth Century Society demonstrates the historical importance of these areas.
WE RECOMMEND THAT A PROPER ASSESSMENT BE MADE OF THE IMPORTANCE OF BULL YARD, SHELTON SQUARE AND CITY ARCADE AND THAT PROPER PLANS ARE PREPARED TO SHOW WHAT WILL REPLACE THEM.
The Extension of Market Way
We note that the extension of Market Way to Greyfriars Road (Lower Market Way) is a joint vehicle -pedestrian street without active frontage uses. To some extent this undermines the whole principle of the city centre pedestrian precinct and in the absence of detailed plans there is a risk that this could be a poor quality, service yard, type environment with blank walls.
THE SOCIETY RECOMMENDS THAT DETAILED PLANS AND MANAGEMENT ARRANGEMENTS FOR THIS AREA BE SUBMITTED PRIOR TO APPROVAL OF THE SCHEME
The Coventry Society has long campaigned to retain space for small independent retailers in the city centre. Such retailers can rarely afford the rents chargeable for new developer created retail spaces. At present City Arcade gives a home to a number of such retailers. Furthermore Charity Shops now form an important element of the retail offering – they provide an important opportunity to recycle goods and support charities at a time of decreasing grant aid. City Arcade also provides for this need.
City Centre South may address part of this issue though the provision of the Pavilion. We feel that this is an exciting concept and vision. However no details have been provided about the design or management of the Pavilion. We are unable to assess the extent that the building will address the issues we have outlined. We feel that a Retail Strategy should be produced which maps out the retail offering of the whole development and describes the route that new businesses can follow from fledgling enterprises to full commercial operation. We should be seen as a city which nurtures and supports its small business community.
WE RECOMMEND THAT A RETAIL STRATEGY BE PRODUCED TO SUPPORT THE DEVELOPMENT.
The Coventry Society supports the overall vision of the City Centre South development, which includes the following elements:
A sense of community
• A creative cultural and leisure offer, providing entertainment and activity for all
• A place to live and belong to, with a strong community spirit
• A place to be proud of
A strong economic foundation
• A wide mix of uses, including leisure, retail, residential and healthcare, to foster a vibrant, day and evening economy with good natural surveillance
These elements of the vision can be summarised as the cultural elements of the development. We believe that a strong cultural offering is essential for successful city centre regeneration and that without it there is a strong possibility that the resulting development of flats and occasional shops will become dead and sterile.
In delivering this vision the plan includes the following actions outlined in the Planning Statement:
Learning and Non-Residential Institutions (Class F.1)
4.18 As part of the overall maximum parameter of 37,500sqm of non-residential mixed uses, the Development will include the ability to accommodate uses including public non-residential institutions such as art galleries, exhibition spaces or education-type uses. The inclusion of Class F.1 as part of the mix of use will enable the development to accommodate cultural activities, should the opportunity arise.
It is clear that there are no active proposals for cultural development and any action is being left entirely to the market to introduce. In effect there is no delivery mechanism for a significant part of the project’s vision.
During the public consultation period on the plans a number of respondents suggested that the plans should be accompanied by a Cultural Strategy to support the development of a cultural offering as part of the regeneration plans. Guy Shearer appeared to agree with this but has not taken anything further.
THE COVENTRY SOCIETY RECOMMENDS THAT A SECTION 106 CONTRIBUTION BE REQUIRED TO SUPPORT THE DEVELOPMENT AND IMPLEMENTING A CULTURAL STRATEGY FOR THE DEVELOPMENT.