Council Tackles Vacant Homes

Photo – Coventry Telegraph

The City Council has approved a new strategy to tackle vacant homes in the city. The Empty Dwellings Strategy 2021-2026 was approved by the City Council’s Cabinet on 31st August.

The new strategy replaces a strategy approved in 2014 and takes account of legislative changes in the meantime.

Coventry currently has around 1,661 long term empty dwellings, about 1.3% of the total number of dwellings, with 57% of these properties being empty for a considerable length of time. Empty homes can have a negative impact on the local neighbourhood, and encourage vandalism, anti-social activity and crime. At a time when there is a shortage of affordable homes in the city, this is also a wasted resource.

The strategy aims to:

  • Improve neighbourhoods and create better environments for local communities;
  • Reduce vandalism and anti-social behaviour;
  • Improve the health and wellbeing of communities and individuals;
  • Help meet housing need by providing additional housing options for the local community;
  • Ensure best use of assets;
  • Improve housing conditions;
  • Increase New Homes Bonus (which can be reinvested into the local area);
  • Increase Council Tax income and potentially increase spend on local goods and services from the occupants of formerly vacant dwellings;
  • Balance new build with the best use of existing stock; and
  • Increase income and capital value to homeowners and reduce the costs of council tax liability. 

The Council’s vision is to reduce the number of long-term vacant dwellings in Coventry to a practical minimum.  Three objectives have been developed to support this vision:- 

  • Objective 1 – To promote the range of advice, assistance and support available to bring vacant dwellings back into use and develop new solutions such as a Private Sector Leasing scheme;
  • Objective 2 – To use enforcement action in bringing long term problematic vacant dwellings back into use; and
  • Objective 3 – To better understand why dwellings are being left empty in the city and where possible prevent dwellings from becoming empty for long periods of time.

The strategy is focusing on properties that have remained vacant for more than six months. It is recognized that homes are often vacant for short periods due to the normal operation of the housing market.

The Council will appoint an Empty Dwellings Officer (EDO) who will lead the implementation of the strategy. A carrot and stick approach is being adopted with assistance and advice provided to property owners to enable properties to be let on a temporary basis to people in need of accommodation in the city and practical support.

The service includes pest control, garden clearances, house clearances, graffiti removal or removing sharps / needles. The team will go out to the property and give a quote for the works. If the owner wants the work to proceed, it is completed at a time to suit all parties. If the owner is not willing to work with the Council, then the EDO can arrange for the property to be cleared as ‘works in default’. Once the work is completed, a charge is placed on the property which will be paid when the property is sold.

Enforcement action is to be stepped up where the first approach is unsuccessful. The Council has many Regulatory powers that it can utilise in order to address the impact an empty property has on neighbours and the local area. With the legislation available the Council can serve a notice on the homeowner to ensure that these issues are addressed and in, turn, encourage the owner to bring the property back into use. Where all attempts of intervention have failed or if there is an immediate risk to health or safety, the EDO will consider a number of enforcement options that are available.

Enforcement options include various Public Health and Housing Act actions, Empty Dwelling Management Orders, Enforced Sales procedures and ultimately Compulsory Purchase Orders.

Alongside support and enforcement, the Council will also be introducing preventative action, including sending letters to property owners when the initial six month vacancy is approaching and when properties are approaching two year vacancy. The Council levies a 100% penalty Council Tax charge when properties are left vacant for two years. This rises to 200% after five years and 300% after ten years.  

The Coventry Society welcomes the new strategy and hopes that it will be implemented with determination. Vacant homes are of no use to anyone and can have a very damaging impact on a neighbourhood. The strategy should make a small, but welcome, contribution to meeting the shortage of affordable housing in the city.

Part of Coundon Wedge to be Destroyed by Council

The City Council has launched a consultation on its plans to build over part of the Coundon Wedge. The Coventry Society is opposed to this untimely development.

The site is approximately 18 hectares (45 acres) bordered by Browns Lane, Coundon Wedge Drive and Wall Hill and Hawkes Mill Roads and is currently used for agriculture. It is owned by Coventry City Council and the Coventry Diocesan Board of Finance Ltd.

Within the next few months, the Council plan to submit an outline planning application for the development of up to 350 new homes, including some affordable homes at Browns Lane. The application will also include plans for a two hectare (5 acre) site that will be reserved for the development of a residential/nursing care home and housing with care apartments. Alongside will be associated infrastructure including access roads to residential areas, drainage, landscape improvements and play space.

The illustrative masterplan drawing, shown above shows an indicative layout and access points. It is likely that the residential development and residential/nursing care home and housing with care apartments will be delivered in two phases.

Should outline planning permission be granted, the selected developers will be required to submit a Reserved Matters application seeking approval for the detail including appearance, scale, layout and landscaping. This will be subject to further consultation and you will have another opportunity to comment.

The site was originally green belt but was taken out of the green belt in 1975 to allow it to be used for the potential expansion of the Jaguar factory. When the company departed the site the CIty Council re-allocated the land for residential developlment, a decision that was ratified in the approved Coventry Development Plan where is it now identified for 475 houses (Policy H2:6).

This consultation is for 350 houses and the Council argues that the developer will not be able to build more than this, but experience in Eastern Green demonstrates that once approved, housing numbers can increase considerably as developers seek to maximise the return on their investment once the principal of development is confirmed.

The current consultation runs until Sunday 10th October. You can access the online consultation and make online comments at:

https://letstalk.coventry.gov.uk/brownslane

There is more information that can be downloaded from:

https://letstalk.coventry.gov.uk/6555/widgets/28015/documents/14915

If you have any questions, you can book a slot to talk to a council officer in person at the XJ Suite at the Jaguar Club on Thursday 23 September between 3pm and 7pm. To book a slot you should email Richard.Dale@coventry.gov.uk or call 024 7697 1979.

Consultees should note that any comments or objections made will not be considered by Planning Committee when they consider the outline planning application and will need to be re-submitted when the application is made.

The Coventry Society is disappointed that the City Council is bringing this land forward for development at this time. There is more than adequate land for development in the North West of the city, with 3200 houses already planned and being built in Keresley and Eastern Green. Coundon Wedge is a sacred place for the city and should be untouchable. This land was only released from the Green Belt to allow the expansion of Jaguar and it is sheer opportunism of the Council to try to sell this beautiful site for housing now.

The Coventry Local Plan is due to be reviewed next year and it is well known that the population projections for the city are flawed. It is cynical in the extreme to try to slip this development under the bar to secure the development value of the land before the plan is reviewed. We know that the council is desperate to raise funds but this is one development too far!

A Coventry made timepiece fit for a King

This article was first published in March 2019. It has been corrected and updated courtesy of CovSoc member and historian David Fry.

Samual Watson clock
Samuel Watson Astronomical Clock in Windsor Castle.

King Charles II didn’t much like Coventry. In 1662 he ordered the demolition of Coventry’s city walls as punishment for the city’s support for Parliament during the Civil War and the humiliation of his father King Charles I.

Charles I had tried to enter Coventry, with the intention of gaining access to the large armoury in the city. But after laying siege to the city with cannon fire he did not manage to gain entry, and had to move on.

So Coventry was in the new king’s bad books and was paying for it. The city even had to pay for every cartload of stone blocks taken away from the city wall.

King Charles II
King Charles II

Despite his dislike of Coventry, the King had a penchant for Coventry workmanship and in particular for clocks made by Coventry clock maker Samuel Watson. He commissioned Watson to make two of them, the second of which still survives. It is the most amazing timepiece, an astronomical clock incorporating planetary motion.

The clock has four large dials and one small one in the centre. The top left-hand dial is the planetary dial and shows the earth in the centre, and the five known planets at the time and the sun. Each ring revolves around the earth, the planets turning in their own orbits. The top right-hand dial is the lunar dial and shows the sun and the moon revolving around the earth, so the moon keeps her illumination face always towards the sun.

The bottom left-hand dial is the Calendar and Solar Cycle Dial and shows the motion of the nodes, when the earth, the sun and the moon will take place predicting eclipses, the long hand revolves once a year showing the day and month of the year for the first three years on the first outer rings and with the leap year on the fourth outer ring. The bottom right-hand dial, the Dial of the Golden Numbers has a long hand revolving once in nineteen years and indicates the Metonic cycle.

The small dial in the centre tells the day of the week and the time, but with only one single hand!

It took Samuel Watson from 1683 – 1690 to complete the clock but by the time he had finished it King Charles II had died.

Later the clock was bought by Queen Mary II of William and Mary fame for Kensington Palace. But she did not like the wooden long case clock frame that it was in, so it was installed in a wall panel in the palace. In 1907 it was moved to another wall panel in the library of Windsor Castle, where it remains today. The original case was returned to Watson who put a simpler 8 day clock movement in it and is now part of the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum collection, having been bought for £1,6509 in 1960.

Samuel Watson (1650 – 1722) lived and worked in Coventry and was Sheriff of the city in 1686. In 1690 he moved to Long Acre in London and was made ‘Mathematician in Ordinary to his Majesty’ in 1682 when he delivered the first clock. He was also an associate of Isaac Newton, for whom he made two other astronomical clocks. His other inventions included the “five minute repeater” (a clock which strikes the hours and then the number of 5 minute periods since the hour) and also the stopwatch.

Samuel Watson made many clocks and watches between about 1680 and 1717 that are known of but he was probably producing them in Coventry before the earlier date and after the later date and fortunately many of his clocks and watches survive. We would love to see the city host an exhibition of Watson clocks, bringing together the Herbert longcase and the Windsor clock for the first time in 330 years. This would be a worthy event for our City of Culture Year and would celebrate a great citizen of Coventry who we have forgotten as well as an industry that the city was famous for.

Coventry brook flowing for the first time in over 100 years

Cllr Patricia Hetherton from Coventry City Council (left) with Katie Burn from Complex Development Projects

One of Coventry’s ancient watercourses on the edge of the city centre is flowing again for the first time in over a century thanks to a major new naturalisation project.

The re-creation of the Radford Brook is part of a £6m land reclamation project by Complex Development Projects (CDP), and funded by West Midlands Combined Authority, to create a new 700m Linear Park from Belgrade Plaza to Naul’s Mill Park as the centrepiece for a major new housing development.

Around 400 metres of underground pipework has been installed to bring the culverted brook under two roads to re-emerge in the former depot and gas works site where thousands of new trees and plants will create a green corridor for wildlife.

The former mill pond in Naul’s Mill Park, converted into a model boating lake in Edwardian times, has also been naturalised to create a new wildlife haven and improve the water quality in the heart of the city.

The foundations have been laid for two new feature bridges over the brook, which powered the 12th century Naul’s Mill built for the cleaning of cloth which was the source of the city’s medieval wealth.

The Linear Park is expected to be completed and opened to the public in October this year, and Naul’s Mill Park will host the Beneath the Trees event on August 28 which is part of UK City of Culture.

Katie Burn, senior development executive at CDP, said Radford Brook will be the focal point of a proposed new high-quality residential district for the city.

She said: “This new water feature is already bringing wildlife back to a site that had been a contaminated gasworks for 200 years.

“Coventry’s gasworks was founded in 1821 and turned what must have been an idyllic setting of the stone mill and brook into a fenced off industrial wasteland. We wanted to turn the clock back to bring a wildlife corridor right into the city centre for people to enjoy.

“We have already finished work on the large pond with natural planting around the edge that will grow over the coming months to provide a habitat for newts, fish and wetland birds.

“The Linear Park will be transformational for this part of the city, providing a direct green link from the city centre under the raised ring road and out to the suburbs.”

The work is being carried out by Coventry-based landscape contractors Idverde.

Cllr Patricia Hetherton, Cabinet Member for City Services at Coventry City Council, said: “The transformation is already astounding and I can’t wait to see the project completed with the new bridges in place and the plants fully grown. We have seen a great public response to the water features installed as part of the public realm improvements in the Upper Precinct and this will have similar appeal with a piece of countryside recreated right on the edge of the city centre.”

New Artwork at the Station

Coventry’s Grade II listed railway station is to get a makeover this month, courtesy of artist Christopher Tipping.

Christopher has been commissioned to create artwork to decorate the huge windows at the station. The artwork portrays some of the history of culture of the city. Coventry Society members were consulted and contributed to the development of the artwork.

Christopher writes “’I have been commissioned by Creative Giants to create an artwork for the Grade II Listed Coventry Station as part of the Station Masterplan and contributing to Coventry City of Culture 2021, for client Coventry City Council and their partners Avanti West Coast. I was commissioned in December 2020 just prior to what became the second national lockdown in response to the Covid-19 Pandemic. 

“The artwork is to be installed by the end of September 2021 and will cover the floor-to-ceiling double height glazed screens of the ticket hall combining both West and North elevations.  The size is approximately 50m in length and 6m tall, (approx. 350sqm). 

“The artwork will be digitally printed in both opaque and transparent polychrome inks onto optically clear vinyl, allowing as much natural light to be retained as possible and maintaining clear views in to and out from the ticket hall. 

“I am working in collaboration with VGL (Vinyl Graphics Ltd in Reading) they will print and install the work.  I also have a commission to create artwork for 6 new Bus Shelters in and around the new Station public realm. 

“My project brief was to create a personal interpretation of Coventry’s icons and landmarks. A celebration of the built environment. 

“This city is many things, but what caught my attention very early, were the meeting and gathering places. The places for people. Spaces for the community to gather, mix, shop, pray – places to be inspired.

“The architecture of the city is dominated by four incredible public places: 

Coventry Train Station

Coventry Cathedral

Central Market

Upper and Lower Precincts & Broadgate 

“All modernist gems of course. All representing something brave, something bold and new. An original experiment in urban form and community expression.

“Places where Coventry’s multi-cultural society gathers to go about its everyday business.

“I have chosen to focus on these social spaces. These landmarks. On the brilliance of their architecture, on the aspirations & hopes they held and still hold. The history they have still to tell. The legacy they take into the future.“

Christopher explains that there is deliberately no human representation in the work, although there are some animals! The artwork focuses on places.

“We may not know it or acknowledge it, but we all store impressions of places we have been. We know intuitively how somewhere makes us feel. We can learn quite easily how to navigate from A – B through landmarks rather than signage. Buildings, trees, the shape and feel of spaces – the shape of a wall, the colour of a door, the sounds of a street, a wobbly flagstone. I have been creatively ‘looking’ at places for thirty years or more. It’s a habit now, un-self-conscious and automatic, creatively surveying spaces, unpicking. This isn’t a critical or formal process it is an emotional and personal one. Seeing the shape, shadow, colour and texture of places. Cherry-picking the visual language and interpretation to understand for myself what makes a place interesting. I’m not looking for rights and wrongs. I am fascinated by the way places can silently communicate.

“I see patterns in everything. I am fascinated by pavement and pathways – I really am! – I see the history trodden into granite kerbs, threshold slabs, door handles. I notice the craft and language of a building. The hand of a maker. The marriage of art and architecture. The things we have collectively made as a multi-cultural & diverse community. This work is a celebration of our collective skills as makers and creators.

“I explore on foot. I can’t drive. I seek out what might be considered hidden and forgotten. I see the connections between things past and present. I like the backstreets and the secret places. Curiosity is a sharpened tool of my trade.

“The trigger for a project is often a detail, a small thing, something out of the usual. It may be the people, the community who live and work in Coventry. It is often a combination of several strands of interest coming together, weaving a new narrative – telling a new story.

“Being a visitor, I will see things differently than if I lived there. My experiences will be new, I’ll be bombarded by difference. I will try to connect and talk to people if I can. I cover as much ground as possible on foot – this way you see the minutiae.

“I visit archives and museum collections. It is an immersive process. My work is process driven. By that I mean I must be doing something, to discover what it is I am doing. I never start with an idea and try to make it. My impressions of places before I visit them or often at odds with the reality of seeing them for myself. I’m like a sponge in these situations, trying to soak up as much as I can. It can be overwhelming having to sift through everything that comes my way – but the things that resonate and stay uppermost in my mind eventually begin to coalesce and form the foundation of an idea.

“I love the idea, that when travelling, by train or otherwise, you take the DNA of a place along with you. You also bring something back in return to balance the equation. The essence of a place is not always a physical thing, it can be an attitude, a family memory, an accent, local heritage, a song. It drifts along with you, in your wake. Something safe in your pocket.

“I can think of it as a bird on the wing dropping seeds and inadvertently spreading plants to pastures new.

“Passing through that veil of glass and printed vinyl when entering or leaving the station, you too will pass through a slice of this place. This Coventry in 2021. A colourful curtain of ideas, 100 microns thick, yet substantial enough to stay with you, in your thoughts, embedded in your clothes, your memory, this essence of place.

“Visitors don’t escape it either. A light dusting of Coventry to take away. Thank you very much!”