After careful consideration the Coventry Society has decided to formally oppose the demolition of the Coventry Cross and has launched a petition in support of this campaign.
The Society is not opposed in principle to the relocation of the Coventry Cross, providing that what replaces it is appropriate to the historic environment around County Hall, Holy Trinity and the Old Cathedral and that a suitable location is found for the reconstruction of the Cross with a timetable and full budget to fund it.
However this is not what is on the table. Despite what you may have read elsewhere, there is no plan to rebuild the Cross, no budget for doing so and no plan of what will replace the Cross in Coventry’s foremost Conservation Area. The plan is for the monument to go into storage and if the budget for rebuilding it is not found it will stay there, like so many other works of Public Art in the city.
At the heart of the issue is the fact that the replica cross is located within the City’s Hill Top Conservation Area, which has its own Management Plan, which was recently reviewed and updated. When demolition is proposed within a Conservation Area there is a requirement for the developer to demonstrate that the demolition will add to and not reduce the environmental quality of the Conservation Area. The process for doing this is to prepare a Heritage Statement to support the application. The Heritage Statement should provide the evidence that the demolition will enhance the Conservation Area. The application to demolish the Coventry Cross does not have a Heritage Statement. It does not even have a proper planning application that members of the public can see and there is no written justification for the demolition. If this all sounds unlikely you can check out the plans on the Council’s Planning Portal.
Furthermore it is not normal to support a demolition plan without seeing what will replace the demolished structure. Again there are no plans for what is to replace the Coventry Cross, just a description of making good the pavement surfaces around it. We have been told that the demolition is to make way for a restaurant, a Caribbean fusion restaurant called Turtle Bay. But we have seen no plans about what is proposed, so it is not possible to form a fair assessment as to whether the new facilities will be more attractive than the Coventry Cross. Again this is contrary to the Conservation Area Management Plan.
The proposed relocation site for the monument, for which there is no funding yet available, is on Ironmonger Row, in front of Gregg’s and a multi-coloured student block. Having taken advice from the sculptor involved in the creation of the cross, we do not believe that this is the best location for it. If the Council does go ahead with the relocation, we would like other options to be considered and the public consulted on them.
The person at the heart of these proposals is Councillor Jim O’Boyle, Cabinet Member for Regeneration. Of course Cllr. O’Boyle would have been advised of all these planning requirements if Coventry had a Conservation Officer. Unfortunately, for reasons not known to us, Coventry City Council no longer has a Conservation Officer.
Cllr. O’Boyle has stated that that the allocated budget for relocating the cross is £150,000 and that the Council has obtained that amount from a grant from the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership.
However on closer examination we find out that the budget is to dismantle the monument, clean up parts of it and put it into storage. We have asked the council for the full cost of replacing the Cross in a different location and they are not able to tell us. It all depends on the state of the structure. However we have been told by a reliable source that the total cost is likely to be in the region of £500,000 and there is no budget for the shortfall of £350,000. Some people might ask whether it is worth spending even £150,000 of public money on a scheme that is purely designed to benefit a single restaurant. Why isn’t the developer paying? If the total cost does come out at the estimated half a million pounds, would Coventry people still see it as value for money?
The Coventry Society supports the City Council’s efforts to regenerate the city centre, but it is not reasonable to expect support for plans that run counter to the Council’s own rules and policies. Approval of the demolition of the cross without meeting the requirements of the Conservation Area Management Plan would set a precedent for other unsuitable developments in the city’s Conservation Areas.
The decision on the future of the monument lies with the Council’s Planning Committee, which is obliged to operate fairly within the adopted rules and policies of the Council and National guidance, so we are hopeful that the matter will be properly and fairly considered.
If you support the campaign to save the Coventry Cross, please sign the petition
You can see the “detailed” plans on the Council’s Planning portal, and make comments until 27th September.