Electric Bus City takes a Step Nearer

Two weeks ago we reported that Transport for the West Midlands had won a Government grant of £50 million for the creation of an electric bus network in Coventry. It has now been confirmed that the funding is guaranteed, subject only to the development of a “Full Business Case” which will be delegated to the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) for approval. The Business Case will be considered by the WMCA on 19th March and it is expected that the full £50 million grant will be paid to the WMCA before the end of that month. The City Council is preparing the business case.

The grant will see 297 new electric buses coming into operation in Coventry and neighbouring Warwickshire over the next four years. By the winter of 2025 every public bus service in the city will be operated by a zero emission electric vehicle.  It is calculated that this will save 24,000 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide and 55 tonnes of Nitrogen Dioxide every year. It is anticipated that the first ten National Express electric buses will take to the street by the end of the summer.

As well as funding for new vehicles, the grant will also cover investment in wider infrastructure such as charging points and upgrades to the electric grid. The £50m will be supported by a further £75m of investment from local bus operators into the new electric buses.

The WMCA has published a notice to set up an Enhanced Partnership Plan for the West Midlands area. Once established this Partnership Plan will require all future bus services in the city to be operated by zero emission buses.

With the introduction of electric buses and the development of a new cycling infrastructure, the city is really taking on the mantle of an advanced modern city. Whether very light rail and a drone / electric taxi airport will extend that vision we will see in due course.

City Council invests in Albany Theatre

The City Council is shortly to consider proposals for the future development of the Albany Theatre in the former City College in the Butts.

Plans being considered will facilitate improvements at the Theatre that include building three new studio spaces and improvements to the front of house and café.

The Council is considering awarding a grant of £2.908m as part of a long-term plan by the Albany Theatre Trust to deliver “Arts for Life”.

The Albany Theatre is identified as a significant cultural asset for Coventry, and in recent years attendances have been increasing alongside its outreach and training programmes.

A council statement says “The investment in the Theatre will enable it to be fit-for-the-future. It will provide new opportunities to increase its impact and contribute to the legacy of Coventry’s year as UK City of Culture. At the same time, it will strengthen the operating Albany Theatre Trust, which aims to double its turnover and become a more sustainable business.”

The Albany Theatre Trust is an independent company limited by guarantee, with charitable status. It is responsible for the operation of the Albany Theatre.

The theatre has successfully attracted emergency funding from the Arts Council England as well as from private benefactors and in 2020 the Trust appointed a new Chief Executive and Artistic Director, Kevin Shaw, who has led the development of an ambitious new business plan to deliver the Trust’s Mission – to promote wellbeing through Arts for Life.

The proposed capital project includes:

• Redevelopment of the existing studio theatre which will be acoustically isolated, enabling it to be used more readily when other areas of the building are active.
• Addition of three new flexible spaces for community performances, and to be rented out for education and outreach activities.
• Addition of a new café and improvements to the front-of-house areas providing increased opportunity for secondary income.

The capital project programme can begin as soon as funding is agreed, and conditions are met. Work is expected to begin on site before the end of the year and all be completed in time for the Albany’s winter programme in 2022.

Decarbonising the Construction Industry

Coventry is just about to embark on a mass demolition and rebuild programme across the south of the city centre. The new buildings will have to meet modern energy standards and will be much more energy efficient than their predecessors.

However the demolition of the old buildings will require an input of energy for the deconstruction, disposal and end of life aspects of the materials and systems that make up those buildings.

The construction of the new buildings will require an even larger input of energy associated with the emissions caused by extraction, manufacture, transportation and assembly of a building and later its maintenance. This is known as “embedded carbon”.

In the UK, 49% of total carbon emissions are attributed to buildings.  This is a significant amount of greenhouse gas. It is estimated that 75% of a building’s life time emissions are embedded carbon.

Whilst the energy efficiency of new buildings is regulated, there are currently no regulations covering embedded carbon. Major schemes, such as City Centre South, will be approved and given the go ahead with no assessment of the overall carbon impact of the scheme.

A group called Architects Climate Action Network (ACAN) is campaigning to introduce embodied carbon regulation in the UK to reduce the emissions generated over a building’s entire lifespan.

ACAN is calling on UK policymakers to introduce tougher building standards that go beyond regulating the energy efficiency of buildings in use. In its campaign, ACAN demands restrictions to reduce the emissions that result from the manufacturing, construction, maintenance and demolition of buildings.

ACAN believes, that if the construction industry is to truly play its part in tackling the climate and ecological crises, limits on these emissions must be put in place.

More than half of the countries in the world have a smaller national carbon footprint than the footprint of the UK’s construction sector alone. The lack of legislation around embodied carbon is partly due to a belief that reducing it is too complicated.

But ACAN points out that the construction industry already has the tools that it needs to analyse the carbon impact of their designs.  

FCBS CARBON is a whole life carbon review tool, designed to estimate the whole life carbon of a building to inform design decisions prior to detailed design. This makes potential carbon impacts clear to the client, architect and the whole design team from the outset of the design process. Using benchmarked data from the ICE Database and EPDs, the tool is designed to give the design team insight into the whole life carbon impact of a building from the very outset of a project.

H\B:ERT is an easy-to-use open source Revit-based tool that enables design teams to quickly analyse and clearly visualise the embodied carbon emissions of different building components and construction material options at any time during the design process.

It is clear that if lifetime carbon assessments were put in place, there would often be a stronger case for improving, remodelling and restoring older buildings rather than demolishing them and rebuilding.  If the UK is to achieve its carbon reduction targets, it will be necessary to take embedded carbon in buildings much more seriously.

This article was based on a story in a recent CAN newsletter with grateful thanks to the author.

What Coventry teaches us about respecting a city’s heritage

Architect John Prevc

This article is by Architect and Coventrian John Prevc, who has given several talks to the Coventry Society. It is reprinted from the Estates Gazette with kind the permission of the publishers.

COMMENT It seems a little strange that at a time when we are filling our homes with furniture inspired by the post-war era, we are unable to love the architecture which housed it.

As a Coventrian I have listened with interest to the current debate over the future of the city, which has laid bare the issues that now befall so many of our post-war city redevelopments: the destruction of significant areas of our 1950s and 1960s modernist heritage.

Coventry’s architecture isn’t the uncompromising rough concrete brutalism so much admired by architects and historians. Its modernism is friendly, approachable and humane, built from brick and stone, embellished with sculptures and reliefs signalling a time of great positivity and expectation. Perhaps it is because it’s not at all showy that it has failed to attract attention.

Adapting sustainably

This is also a story about local civic pride and the way that local authorities value good design. The city architect, Donald Gibson, with his assistant Frank Moate, were responsible for both the masterplan and design of many of the precinct’s significant 1950s buildings. Lady Godiva Clock and Bridge Restaurant, Broadgate House and the upper precinct were all designed by them.

Gibson was succeeded as city architect by Arthur Ling, who designed the lower precinct, city market, Belgrade Theatre and swimming baths. Architects wanted to work for local authorities as they were able to design some of the country’s most iconic buildings.

As local authorities have lost their autonomy and funding, city architects’ departments have now all closed. Design, it seems, can no longer be left in the hands of locally employed professionals. Perhaps this is why much of the regeneration of our post-war cities has become so generic. There is no longer the sense of ownership of our local heritage, nor is there an understanding of its distinctiveness and shared history. We have started to lose our sense of “Coventryness”.

The debate has highlighted that we are missing an opportunity not only to save our post-war heritage but also to reclaim it in a push to reuse and adapt our built environment sustainably.

I thought it would be worth focusing on some of the successes that those with their hearts firmly embedded in the city have realised in recent years.

None can be more so considered than developers Ian and Brian Harrabin who, with their company Complex Development Projects, have provoked the city into recalibrating its thinking with regards to its historic buildings, seeing them more as assets rather than a burden to change.

The Harrabin brothers started with the regeneration of dilapidated canal-side warehouses into affordable homes for local people. They then regenerated one of the city’s most significant arteries, Gosford Street, and built a new creative quarter alongside called Fargo Village.

However, it’s their most recent project that best illustrates the way in which creativity can reimagine Coventry’s 1950s heritage. The former Coventry Evening Telegraph newspaper building housed the offices and printworks for this iconic local newspaper.

Although the paper is still published, it was unable to sustain its occupation of its grand headquarters building in the heart of the city. Having remained closed for more than 10 years, the building was bought by CDP and now stands proudly as the new Telegraph Hotel.

The large print machine room is now a conference and events space, the offices have been transformed into hotel rooms and the main entrance foyer remains almost unchanged, evoking the spirit of the 1950s newspaper. Creativity and the willingness to adapt has gone beyond the physical.

Wrecking ball

The financial challenges to allow such a scheme to be built were not insubstantial. The city council agreed that a part of the site could be redeveloped as student housing in order to make the scheme viable. It’s this type of holistic thinking, bringing together commercial, heritage and social value to the city, that should be promoted.

Stopping the “wrecking ball” mentality will require stakeholders to work much harder. It’s so much easier to allow our heritage to fall into disrepair, resulting in its inevitable demolition.

What Harrabin and his team have demonstrated is that as a result of taking that difficult journey they have not only resurrected an iconic Coventry landmark but have also challenged the real estate sector to look again at our heritage from the 1950s and 1960s and see it as viable assets for the future.

John Prevc is regional leader of planning at HOK

Coventry’s New Online Atlas

An interactive, digital record of Coventry, featuring maps and photographs charting the city’s history, has been launched with a call to the public to get involved.

The Coventry Atlas tracks the city’s story in layers from the age of Lady Godiva into the modern era through thousands of drawings, maps and photos, with text to support collections of images based on people and places.

And now Coventry folk are being asked to upload onto the site their own images to build up a bank of photographs that will eventually lead to every street in Coventry being represented on the Atlas. They can submit material for the Atlas through Coventry University’s new Coventry Digital site, which was launched earlier this month and will shortly introduce a submissions portal, making contributing easier.

Coventry Atlas will also act as an educational resource – with specific learning packs aimed at schools – and is designed to be accessible on both desktops and mobile phones.

It has been produced by Coventry City of Culture Trust with a range of partners including Coventry University, Culture Coventry and Photo Archive Miners. Copywriting for the project is by Coventry Society member Peter Walters, while education consultant Madalyn Baskerville has been responsible for schools resources.

Photo Miners will be working with communities over the next few months to develop trails through the city. The trails will encourage people to get out and explore different bits of Coventry and will be created from collections of community-contributed images and stories which will be available on Coventry Atlas.

Mark Cook, from Photo Miners, said “We have a fantastic platform in the Atlas. Now we need to work with the public to surface the hidden stories that make Coventry so special.”

Chenine Bhathena, of Coventry City of Culture Trust, said, “It’s something for everyone who lives, works or studies in Coventry to enjoy and also a resource to learn about the history of the city, right down to the road each individual lives in. For us to be able to showcase the history of each area and every street, we need people from right across Coventry to come forward with their images and help us build up Coventry Atlas as a lasting legacy of UK City of Culture 2021.”

Dr Benjamin Kyneswood, from Coventry University, said, “It’s been great working with the Trust to show items in Coventry Digital on the Atlas. It gives the public another way to enjoy their heritage and share their stories of the city.”

The project has also received contributions from the Historic Coventry Trust, historian Dr Mark Webb, Historic Towns Atlas and many Coventry photographers, past and present.