CovSoc Response to City Centre South

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 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.

Green Strategy

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.


Public Art

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.

Tall Buildings

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.
Building Heights – blue line is minimum height; red line is Maximum Height

Heritage Assessment

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.


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 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.



 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. 


Research into Wireless Charging of Electric Vehicles to Start in Coventry

Western Power Distribution (WPD), the electricity distribution network operator for the Midlands, has announced the launch of its new research project exploring the feasibility of wireless, ‘on-the-go’ charging for electric vehicles (EVs) in the UK.

The £417,000 study is the first of its kind in the UK and will assess the viability of charging EVs as they are driven by using wireless inductive technology placed under road surfaces.

The ground-breaking DynaCoV (Dynamic Charging of Vehicles) initiative, launched in partnership with Coventry City Council, Coventry University, Toyota and Cenex, could help encourage the mass adoption of EVs by overcoming significant barriers around charging and range anxiety.

It is expected that the technology could be particularly beneficial to HGVs which are constantly on the move and require larger batteries in order to provide the power required. Inductive charging technology would tackle concerns that exist regarding range anxiety for HGVs that are often constantly on the move over long distances.

The technology would also prove beneficial for distribution network operators, such as WPD, as it would provide multiple substation connection points along the length of the charging strip resulting on less pressure on the network.

The on-the-go charging would also relieve pressure across the network by reducing high demand periods such as end of day charging when people return home from work.​

With the required technology retrofitted to existing EVs and hybrid vehicles, the study will assess the data communication between the charger and receiver, as well as exploring how the equipment would operate within the existing network and the external environment.

The technology works by laying a small wireless charger beneath the tarmac in the road for the retrofitted receiver to pick up the charge and power the vehicle.

The project will be conducted in three stages. Firstly, Cenex will explore existing expertise and developments in this area, before Coventry University assesses the feasibility of deploying the technology in the city. Finally, Cenex will identify where WPD’s existing network might benefit from said technology and how it would work in such an environment.

The study begins this month and the results are expected to be published by February 2022. Depending on the outcome, an initial trial of the technology could be announced later in the year.

Shamala Evans from Coventry City Council added: “There are sectors of the transport system, such as buses and HGVs, which have previously proven challenging to electrify due to their high energy demands. However, dynamic wireless power transfer is a technology which has the potential to provide the ability to charge on the move and will be transformational in accelerating the electrification of our transport networks.

“Coventry’s ambition is to create a zero-emission road transport city and we believe this initiative will support our bid to become an All Electric City going forward.”

This article is edited from a Coventry City Council Press Release from 4/1/2021

Henry VI in Coventry

This year marks the 600th anniversary of the birth of King Henry VI. As the monarch with the closest connection with Coventry our Committee Member historian Peter Walters tells us the story…..

On 29 September 1451, Michaelmas Day, King Henry VI celebrated high mass in St Michael’s Church, conferring his royal seal of approval on Coventry’s largest place of worship and its recently completed spire.

At his lodgings in the Benedictine Priory, the king had already granted a private audience to the Mayor, Richard Boys, assuring him that Coventry was the best-ruled town in his kingdom. And on his departure for Kenilworth some days later, he granted Coventry the right to call itself not just a city but a county too.

It was a triumphant beginning to a relationship that would continue throughout the 1450s, one in which Coventry became more closely associated with Henry than with any other monarch, before or since.

Born 600 years ago this year, Henry VI inherited a throne at nine months and was crowned king at seven years old, yet to many of his contemporaries he had a wondering, distracted air, ill-fitted for kingship.

Standing five feet nine and well-built, he had the physical stature of a king, but lacked the determination and drive of his warlike father, Henry V. Intelligent but pious to the point of obsession, he was described by one observer of his court as ‘a saint or a natural fool.’

But it was ill-health, some form of catatonic illness that incapacitated him for months at a time that truly left his reign in ruins as savage conflict raged between the houses of York and Lancaster.

Henry had already suffered one bout of the illness when he made his next appearance in Coventry, in the autumn of 1456.

Crucially, it was his queen, Margaret of Anjou, who decided that London was now so hostile that Coventry should become the centre of the Lancastrian cause and the de facto capital of England.

The arrival of the Queen and her two-year-old son, Edward, on 14 September prompted the city fathers to lay on an extraordinarily lavish welcome, featuring fourteen pageants in which the royal family’s virtues were favourably compared to saints and other notables down the ages.

Henry was there that day; he’d arrived in Coventry some weeks earlier. But he was a shadowy presence, barely mentioned in the pageants, while the queen was hailed as ‘empress, queen, princess excellent in one person all three’.

 And he may well have been ill again, for the actors expressed their concern for his health at least twice.

It was in Coventry that autumn that Margaret firmly set about taking the reins of government from her husband in the increasingly vicious war against the Yorkists.

Over the next four years the royal couple were to spend a good deal of their time in the city and it was from Coventry that in July 1460 Henry bid his wife and son farewell and rode out at the head of the Lancastrian forces to engage the Yorkists at the battle of Northampton, a brutal encounter in which a defeated Henry was captured sitting meekly in his tent as the battle raged around him.

Even though Henry was later restored to the throne, in name at least, he never returned to Coventry. Yet there is still one vivid reminder of him in the city.

More than forty years after his death, with a cult based on his piety and saintliness still exerting a powerful hold on many people’s imaginations, a tapestry was commissioned for St Mary’s Hall, showing Henry and Margaret, at prayer, surrounded by their court.

It was made for the north wall of the hall. And it hangs there still.

Tapestry in St. Mary’s Hall, depicting King Henry VI

New lighting switched on in Greyfriars Green

Colourful new rainbow lighting has been installed along the path in Greyfriars Green, lighting up the walk between Coventry railway station and Bull Yard.

Coventry City Council – City Centre

The light columns use red, green, blue and white LEDs, which offers approximately 52 million lighting combinations to choose from, and there are already plans in place to use the lighting to mark special occasions, such as Remembrance Sunday and St George’s Day.

Other lighting work in the city centre has included the new illuminated water feature in Bull Yard, as well as some new lighting columns. Lights on trees have also been installed in Hertford Street and the Whittle Arch in Millennium Place is now also lit at night.

Councillor Jim O’Boyle, Cabinet Member for Jobs and Regeneration, said: “It’s fantastic to be able to see the lights switched on. It makes such a difference and the pathway between the city centre and the railway station looks much more impressive and inviting – a true warm welcome into the city!”

“We’ve also just finished work in Bull Yard, with new lighting, seating, a new water feature and the play area, which opened this week. It’s great to be able to see that all our hard work is starting to really make a difference in creating spaces that work for local people, businesses and visitors alike.”

Councillor Patricia Hetherton, Cabinet Member for City Services, said: “The lighting just looks lovely. Greyfriars Green is such a beautiful spot in the day, and the lighting really showcases how beautiful it can be at night too. The path is the main connection from the station to the city centre and the lighting makes it even more impressive!”

For more information on all the ongoing improvement works in the city centre, please go to

This article was taken from a Coventry City Council press release dated 24/12/3030

A Christmas Miscellany

As the Christmas holiday period comes to an end, we publish Brian Stote’s third and final Christmas feature. This one looks at the history of some of the Christmas traditions across the world.

The ancient Christmas began on December 6th with the Feast of St Nicholas who was the Bishop of Lycia in Asia Minor. He was known for saving three virgins from a fate worse than death by throwing three bags of gold through their window. In the light of this, he is the patron saint of prostitutes, though also of sailors, pawnbrokers and children. In this last capacity he became particularly associated with Christmas.

St. Nicholas

One tradition, from Oxfordshire, was that a single girl should bake a loaf on December 24th to discover the identity of her future husband. She had to fast throughout the day, name the loaf a ‘dumb-cake’ and prick it with her initials before leaving it by the hearth and going to bed. At the stroke of midnight, the future groom’s double would enter the room and mark his initials next to hers and leave. For this to happen, she had to leave the front door ajar. If she neglected to do this, she would remain a spinster for life.

On the same day, you needed to light the yule candle as a protection against fire, lightning strikes and electric storms throughout the year. You had to ensure that it remained lit throughout the night, for if it went out it was a very ill omen.

One Christmas Eve custom which began centuries ago was the ringing of church bells and in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, the Devil’s Knell still begins with a tolling bell at 11pm which continues until it has sounded once for every year since Christ was born and celebrates the Devil’s departure from the world in general and Dewsbury in particular.   

January 5th was a pagan festival (which we still recognise) known as Wassail, when youths roamed around the fields beating drums and clashing metal to frighten off evil spirits. This was the fore-runner to carols. A wassail cup was then drunk which consisted of warm brown ale, wine, spices and roasted apples.


This part of the year gradually became a Christian festival and it became a tradition to decorate your house with greenery, particularly evergreens such as ivy, holly, bay, mistletoe and yew. These were originally believed to be protection against fire, lightning and the evil eye but happened to be the plants which gave winter colour when all others had gone into hibernation.

The yule log had to be big enough to burn slowly over the whole celebratory season and in France, if the heart of the log remained unburnt it was believed that a piece of it incorporated into a new plough would quicken the soil and ensure a good harvest. In Provence, into the 19th century, the strongest members of the family carried the yule log around the supper table three times before it was laid on the hearth and the eldest in the room poured a libation over it. This was to ask the old gods for help in the new year. The early church took over some of these traditions, with reservations, and decided that ash wood should be used because the Infant Jesus was warmed by a fire made with the wood by the shepherds.

It was customary to bank up the log with ashes at night and then fan it back into flames for the next day. In the Deep South of America, slaves were given a rest from labour while the log kept burning so it was often damped down to extend their holiday.

Boxing Day is so named because the alms boxes in churches were opened on that day to distribute the contents to the poor. This was known as ‘the dole of the Christmas box, the word ‘dole’ still being used for money received whilst out of work and ‘a Christmas Box’ being a gift – usually of money – to those who have served us well throughout the year.

The Christmas tradition in England gradually developed until it was stopped in its tracks by the Puritan dictats during the Civil War. In June 1647, a Parliamentary ordinance abolished the feasts of Christmas, Easter and Whitsun, and substituted as a regular holiday for students, servants and apprentices, the second Tuesday of every month. During the Christmas of 1647 a number of ministers were taken into custody by the authorities for attempting to preach on Christmas Day, and one of them subsequently published his intended sermon under the title ‘The Stillborn Nativity’. Despite this government pressure, however, Christmas festivities remained popular, and successive regimes throughout the 1650s felt obliged to reiterate their objection to any observance of the feast.

Christmas was to be marked by fasting rather than feasting and although the law was repealed at the restoration in 1660, many of the old customs had been lost.

In the post-parliamentary era, which lasted more than 160 years, some of the old traditions resurfaced, though in far fewer numbers and, although Christmas Day became rather more the focal day of celebration, the seasonal festivities were much less extensive and enthusiastic. The old Twelfth Night custom of the King and Queen being established did, however, return to popularity during the 18th century and the 1820’s saw the beginnings of a revival. With the dawning of the Victorian era it received a hefty boost and began to develop into what we would generally recognise as the Christmas of today.

Queen Victoria’s Christmas

House decoration in Victorian times, in the wealthier homes, was quite lavish. Garlands of ivy were wreathed around bannisters, and of nuts over mantelpieces. Holly and yew boughs were placed where children couldn’t reach them as their berries were poisonous.

Our modern concept of Father Christmas derives from a poem, ‘A Visit from Saint Nicolas’ written in 1822 by an American, Clement Clark Moore.

“…. A miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer, with a little old driver, so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment it must be Saint Nick…”

And it continues –

“Down the chimney St Nicolas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot.

And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;

A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,

And he looked like a pedlar just opening his pack.

His eyes how they twinkled! His dimples how merry!

His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,

And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow.

He was chubby and plump – a right jolly old elf –

And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.”

The pagan yule log was only perpetuated in Victorian times on greetings cards or in the form of bisque models as cake decorations. The cylindrical shape was easy to convert into containers for gift boxes which were made from papier mache and decorated with moss, flowers or crossed ribbons. The chocolate roll was made in imitation of the yule log and it was sprinkled with icing and dusted with sugar to simulate snow.

A modern Yule Log

In the Victorian era, parlour games at family gatherings became popular such as Charades, Ha Ho Hee, Blind Man’s Bluff, Hunt the Slipper, Twenty Questions, Dumb Crambo, Reverend Crawley’s Game and Snapdragon.

Most of the very earliest Christmas carols were originally written in Latin as canticles and were difficult for lay people to sing with enthusiasm because they were not understood.

St. Francis of Assisi, in 1223, changed this when he started his Nativity Plays in Italy. The people in the plays sang songs or ‘canticles’ that told the story during the plays. Sometimes, the choruses of these new carols were in Latin; but normally they were all in a language that the people watching the play could understand and join in! The new carols spread to France, Spain, Germany and other European countries.

The earliest carol, like this, was written in 1410. Sadly, only a very small fragment of it still exists. The carol was about Mary and Jesus meeting different people in Bethlehem. Most Carols from this time and the Elizabethan period are untrue stories, very loosely based on the Christmas story, about the holy family and were seen as entertaining rather than religious songs. They were usually sung in homes rather than in churches. Travelling singers or Minstrels started singing these carols and the words were changed for the local people wherever they were travelling. One carol that changed like this is ‘I Saw Three Ships’.

Christmas carols remained mainly unsung until Victorian times, when two men called William Sandys and Davis Gilbert collected lots of old Christmas music from villages in England Before carol singing in public became popular, there were sometimes official carol singers called ‘Waits’. These were bands of people led by important local leaders (such as council leaders) who had the only power in the towns and villages to take money from the public (if others did this, they were sometimes charged as beggars!). They were called ‘Waits’ because they only sang on Christmas Eve. This was sometimes known as ‘watchnight’ or ‘waitnight’ because the shepherds were watching their sheep when the angels appeared to them.

Many of our traditional carols were written in the Victorian era, though some, such as the ‘Coventry Carol’ (Lullay, Lulla), were survivors from much earlier, as were ‘The Holly and the Ivy’, which could be 1000 years old and of pagan origin, ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel’ (12th Century) but with music by John Mason Neale 1851, ‘God Rest You Merry Gentlemen’ – words from 15th century and ‘The First Nowell’ – 16th century – both first published in 1833 by Sandys.