Who is Behind the Proposed Changes in the Planning System?

The Coventry Society will shortly be publishing details of the proposed changes to the Planning System in England. John Payne identifies the main people proposing the changes.

Dominic Cummings, the Government’s Chief Adviser, caught Coronavirus and drove 260 miles to his second home in County Durham. In his Rose Garden interview he stressed that it wasn’t a nice place to be and was made of “some sort of concrete blocks”.

Local reporters soon established why Cumming’s second home was not a nice place to be – it had been built without planning permission! Local authority officials later confirmed that had planning permission been sought it would have been refused.

In a recent report in The Times it is reported that “Dominic Cummings pledged last night to overhaul the “appalling” planning system as Britain emerges from the coronavirus crisis”.

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Dominic Cummings Second Home in County Durham, constructed without planning permission

In another corner of politics is the “Right Honourable” (sic) Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government – the ultimate decision-maker on planning matters in England.

According to the Financial Times “Mr Jenrick’s political career is testament to his ability to get things built. Before being elected in 2014, he had two applications to enlarge his townhouse rejected by Westminster council. But two months after being elected, a third application was submitted under his wife’s name. Conservative councillors intervened to approve it against the recommendation of planning officers.”

Mr Jenrick attended a Conservative Party Fundraising dinner and was directly lobbied by Millionaire Richard Desmond who wanted to get planning permission for a £1billion waterfront development in London. Tower Hamlets had refused planning permission for the development as it was contrary to the Development Plan for the borough and this refusal was upheld by a Government Planning Inspector.

In January 2020, just months after being appointed as Secretary of State, Mr Jenrick over-ruled his inspectors and granted permission for the development. At Mr Desmond’s request he instructed Civil Servants to approve the development one day before a new Community Infrastructure Levy came into force. This saved Mr Desmond £45 million that would have contributed to schools and other infrastructure to support the development. As Mr Desmond told Jenrick in a text message “we appreciate the speed as we don’t want to give Marxists loads of doe for nothing!”

Perhaps the most surprising thing in all this was that Mr Desmond made only a miserly donation of £12,000 to Tory Party funds. The price of democracy in the UK appears remarkably cheap! Mr Jenrick claims that the accusations made against him were “not simply wrong but actually outrageous” and the Prime Minister agrees with him, stating that the matter is now closed.  They were so outrageous that Mr Jenrick has since had to quash his own approval, conceding the decision was “unlawful”.

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The Prime Minister and Richard Desmond. “This matter is closed”

So these two people are behind the proposed changes to the Planning System. I think that we can be fairly certain that they will approach the matter in a fair and completely unbiased way. The planning system is surely safe in their hands! Isn’t it?

John Payne

The views expressed in this article represents those of the author and are not the views of the Coventry Society.

St Michael’s lights the way

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The first public use of electrical lighting in Coventry was at St Michael’s Church. In 1863 the steeple of St Michael’s Church was illuminated to mark the wedding in St George’s Chapel, Windsor on 10th March of Albert, Prince of Wales (later to be King Edward VII) to Princess Alexandra of Denmark.

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To prepare the lights for the occasion the well-known Coventry steeplejack, George Frith (“Steeple Jack” as he was known), climbed to the top of the spire where he spent most of the day. Coming from the celebrations taking place on the ground far below him, George’s meals were sent up the tower by his helpers – his main meal being a prime cut from the ox being roasted in the Bull Ring.

If he had not been so occupied with the lights, George would have been justifiably annoyed at missing out on the sheep roast and ox roast in Coventry’s market square. Throughout the city there was an air of excitement. It was a general holiday and a procession through the streets attracted most Coventry citizens in to the city centre.

This was in the early days of electricity but it appears to me that the local newspaper reporters present were not totally impressed by St Michael’s illuminations. “The real wonder was to see a light at all, on the top of such a building, three hundred feet above the ground, and to know that a man was there attending to it. “(Coventry Standard). Nevertheless, the lights did shine out from St Michael’s spire and they were visible from miles around.

How was it done? A battery was hauled up to the battlements of the tower and from there two cables carried the electricity to the top of the spire. Illumination came from charcoal jets placed in front of polished reflectors. These needed constant attention to prevent them from going out. The lights stayed on until midnight, and George Frith stayed aloft throughout that time.

“We cannot but think that this illumination of the venerable weathercock at intervals, from eight o’clock till twelve at night, was a remarkable portion of our celebration” (Coventry Standard)

The lighting had a marked impact because it was the first time in their lives that most Coventry citizens had seen electric lights. It was another thirty years later in 1895 that the city opened its first power station, which made electricity for lighting more readily available. (Remains of that power station can be seen alongside Coventry Canal off Foleshill Road where the Electric Wharf housing development is built.)

The impact was all the greater because the city was just emerging from one of the most serious trade depressions in its history. Across the city weaving looms stood idle. To escape the poverty, groups of unemployed weavers were emigrating with their families to Australia.

The City Corporation presented their Royal Highnesses with an address woven on broad Coventry ribbon as a demonstration of the skills of its workforce. Then as the date drew nearer the ribbon industry was unexpectedly revived.

A local clergymen wrote to “The Times” suggesting that the wedding be celebrated by wearing a Coventry ribbon rosette. The rosette would demonstrate loyalty and send good wishes to the Royal couple, and at the same time it would help the struggling weavers. This idea took root. Some enterprising fellow incorporated the Prince of Wales feathers in the ribbon design and covered buttons with it at the centre of a rosette. Cash’s was just one manufacturer that ran looms day and night for the 6 weeks before the wedding to meet the demands from schools, clubs, companies, churches and institutions throughout the country.

woven creations

Many thousands of Coventry’s factory workers were exhausted by their last minute exertions at work. But as they looked skywards on the day of the Royal Wedding and marvelled at St Michael’s steeple with its many lights, at long last they had money in their pockets.

They now had good cause to celebrate!

This article is published with grateful thanks to Martin R Williams, Chairman of the Friends of Coventry Cathedral. It was published in the June edition of their E newsletter. 

Coventry Teenagers Takeover Civic Day

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Like most civic societies CovSoc membership is heavily biased towards older people, many of whom are retired. There isn’t really much for younger people to get involved with.

Civic Day is a national day for celebrating civic pride, coordinated by Civic Voice. Civic Societies up and down the country identify an activity on that day, which this year was held on 20th June.

In previous years, the Coventry Society has trained people in surveying war memorials, showcased the Sherbourne River, organised a tour of the city’s Public Art, exhibited the plans for the Burges and delivered a tour of Coventry’s post-war architecture.

So for this year’s Civic Day, with the lockdown, we decided to try to involve younger people through the channels that they are most familiar with – social media.

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Teenage Takeovers

The Coventry Society has its own social media channels. In order to engage with the city we have set up Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr and Youtube accounts as well as our website and news blog. We know that younger people use some of these media, especially Instagram, Facebook, Youtube and to a lesser extent Twitter. Of course we don’t use all the same social media as young people – we don’t use TicToc, Snapchat or Whatsapp but there is shared use of Instagram, Facebook and Youtube.

Nicola Norman, the project organiser, wanted to engage younger audiences and create awareness for Coventry’s Civic Society amongst them. Nicola said “Coventry’s youth population is the 6th largest in the UK, bigger than both Birmingham and London. It is important for the younger generations to understand a sense of place of where they live, how they live and how they want their city to look like in the future – their future. What do they love about their city? How can it better? How do they envisage its development? I wanted to hear their civic voices.”

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Dean #CovTeenTakeover Having spent time running around the Lunt Roman Fort and exploring St Mary’s Guildhall when I was younger I have been inspired by these places as well as all the other historic buildings we have in Cov. I enjoyed my time in the Old Grammar School and the Herbert doing my work experience and I hope to have a career in construction in the future. #Coventry #CivicDay #civicvoice

Nicola has teenage children of her own and a channel for engaging with other young people in the city. She challenged them to use social media to show what made them proud of their city. The result was published on Civic Day with our #CovTeenTakeover hashtag.

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Suraj Shyamalan #CovTeenTakeover
I love how diverse Coventry is ❤ #CivicDay @civic_voice #Coventry

During the day we had ten posts on Facebook, eight on Twitter, seven on Instagram and a video on Youtube. These posts were shared widely. Overall we saw a huge increase in engagements – on Twitter we had four times the normal level of engagement. On Facebook we reached on average of 500+ people per post and overall, the posts collectively reached 6,951 people. There was a similar level of engagement on Instagram and Youtube.

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Me and Leah Fox exploring our local trails. #CovTeenTakeover

The teens shared their love for the War Memorial Park, nature, wartime history which was filmed in the London Road Cemetery, services provided by Coventry charities, Operation Shield during the Covid-19 crisis, our historic buildings and how diverse our city is.

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Rhys Jones #CovTeenTakeover Being in the Army Cadets and living close to the War Memorial Park, I like to go there and remember the soldiers that have done so much for us. #CivicDay #CivicVoice #Coventry

Nicola said “What I was so pleased to see was that we created awareness and got a new dynamic involved.”

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Erin Anderson. #CovTeenTakeover #CivicDay As a student of this school I couldn’t be prouder of what we as a community have achieved and after seeing the success of pray for peace it brings me hope for what the young people of Coventry can accomplish together. Civic Voice ShadowCV #Coventry https://youtu.be/ekYdVDh8HCU

For the future Nicola sees this event as the first steppingstone in engaging Coventry’s younger audience and consequently their friends and family members in what we do as a Society. This should help create a wider awareness and an opportunity for young people to gain a sense of place and of pride and encouragement for them to be vocal and proactive about their home and their future.

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Chelsea & Beth #CovTeenTakeover Two of many dedicated team members of Operation Shield working tirelessly over 12 weeks, packing, delivering food and checking on the most vulnerable citizens through home visits. Doing an incredible job at this difficult time. #Coventry #CivicDay #civicvoice

Nicola’s ambition is to create a forum on the Society’s website where children and young adults can post their comments on current topics or planning applications and an area for them to ask questions or post requests for what they would like to see/have in their local area.

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Lena Astolfi. #CovTeenTakeover I am proud of the history Coventry has to offer; we can all learn from the past. I would like to see more tourists from all over the world coming to visit Coventry. #Coventry #CivicDayPlease watch my video: https://youtu.be/X0llJp7N3T4

Long-awaited City Centre South proposals arrive

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Developers Shearers, has published plans for the major redevelopment of the south of the city centre. Outline Planning permission for the scheme was initially given in 2012 since when the developer’s ideas and property market conditions have seen radical changes.

Who are Shearers?

Shearer Property Group is a development and investment company with a focus on major urban regeneration projects. It was established in 1995 and has been involved with more than 3 million square feet of mixed-use development around the country.

The company has six years of experience on projects in Coventry. They were responsible for the successful re-invention of Cathedral Lanes as a food and beverage quarter. This project notoriously included the demolition of the well-loved Coventry Cross in nationally famous Hill Top Conservation Area, against the advice of Historic England. The cross was removed to improve the views of a restaurant unit that is still vacant and the re-erection of the Cross outside Holy Trinity is still awaited.

Shearers are also currently regenerating the Upper Precinct with another scheme that Historic England and the Coventry Society objected to, amongst other things for the loss of historic features and weather protection. A financial shortfall in this scheme was subsidised by the Council by reducing the scale of the public realm scheme for the Wave.

What is the Council’s role?

The Council are partners in the scheme and have approved the design. They will be responsible for compulsory purchase of any land not acquired voluntarily. In principle the Council’s Planning Committee is independent of the Council’s development arm, although our experience in the past has not always demonstrated this when push comes to shove.

Coventry City Council has secured a £98.8m grant from the West Midlands Combined Authority towards the cost of this £350m scheme.

What are the plans?

The plans extend from the space in front of the Wave down as far as and including the Market. It is bounded by the back of the Upper and Lower Precinct buildings to the north, Corporation Street to the West and Hertford Street to the East. It comprises 6.4 hectares / 15 acres (the equivalent of 9 football pitches), including Bull Yard, Shelton Square, Market Way, City Arcade and Hertford Street.

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It involves the demolition of City Arcade, the loss of Shelton Square and Bull Yard, all buildings on the east side of Hertford Street and the Barracks Car Park. These will be replaced by about 12 new buildings of varying heights, the tallest being on Corporation Street.

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The most prominent building is called “The Pavilion” which will be located in the space currently occupied by Bull Yard and Shelton Square. It will feature a dynamic variety of pop-up retail and leisure providers. The flexible space will allow the mix of uses to change and evolve to promote new local independent initiatives and artisans. The building will also provide space for public events throughout the year as well as interactive community activities.

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The total scheme comprises up to 1,300 new homes, a variety of new retail units for a modern shopping experience, new leisure facilities, which could include a cinema, cafés, bars, restaurants and spaces for “competitive socialising “as well as a hotel with up to 150 beds. There are 20,000 square metres of landscaped public spaces and routes through the city centre. Community uses include a large medical centre, which accommodates the needs of the wider population.

The developer claim that there will be 1,100-1,400 new jobs for local people, with up to 620 additional construction jobs created throughout the duration of the project.

What consultation is proposed?

The developers are now consulting the public before submitting an outline planning application in August. This initial consultation is being undertaken online from 26th June for two weeks until 10th July.

The developers have created a new website with information about the scheme. You can find this at:  http://www.coventrycitycentresouth.co.uk/

The website contains a lot of attractive visual images, mostly focusing on the Pavilion and the area around it. There are no detailed plans to examine or download. There are no images of the buildings that will replace City Arcade or the area around the Market. No mention is made of any plans for the Market.

Shearers will also be running a series of virtual presentations on the proposals, giving you a chance to ask questions. These will run on the following days:

Wednesday 1 July at 6pm
Saturday 4 July at 10am

You need to register your interest to attend via the website.

This consultation is being undertaken prior to the submission of a hybrid planning application. This means they are applying for the principle of redeveloping the site through a mixture of residential, retail, leisure, office and community uses and new areas of public space, rather than specific details of the design of individual buildings and spaces. They will be coming back to seek further feedback on the detailed elements in the future as part of a series of separate consultation activities once the application is approved.

Covsoc Position

The Coventry Society will be taking a detailed look at the proposals and will consider them against the five tests that we published recently. We recognise the need to redevelop the city centre and attract new uses, but we want to give proper scrutiny of the scheme in the light of what we feel the citizens of Coventry need at this time in the city’s history. In view of the history of City Council / Shearer schemes we will be taking a careful look at the impact on the city’s unique postwar heritage.

Rupert’s Super Model Cathedrals are Simply Divine

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Rupert with one of his stunning models

Rupert Cordeux is fascinated by cathedrals – so fascinated that he builds them himself.

His are smaller versions of the real things, but perfect in every detail.

A dining table at his Stoke Park home is covered with miniatures of some of the most famous English cathedrals: Lincoln, Ely, Gloucester, Canterbury, and many more, each one perfect down to the last gargoyle and flying buttress.

He creates DIY kits of the models which cost up to about £30 and are snapped up by collectors at home and abroad. His biggest market is in eastern Europe, but he was amazed to discover that even London’s Victoria & Albert Museum has a set of his kits.

The attention to detail in his models, all hand-crafted, is astonishing. He visits the cathedrals, paces them out, and takes painstaking measurements using a system he developed. He takes dozens of photos and uses Google Street-view and drone footage to help.

The end results are models which, he reckons, are 95 to 100 per cent accurate. He says: “Other model designers use software to turn photos into artwork but all mine are hand-drawn – that’s almost unique in the world.” His latest model, Lincoln, is his 15th and he says: “When I have done all the English cathedrals I’ll stop”.

There’s more information about Rupert’s models and kits on his website. Go to: rupertcordeux.wixsite.com/modelcathedrals

This story was published in the June edition of Avenews, the newsletter of the Stoke Park Residents’ Group. Our thanks to the editor, Charles Barker, for permission to reprint it here.