I have said it before and I’ll say it again. Bowing to the big boys without proper consideration for locals, whether they be retailers who have invested in a shop or simply members of the public who care about their city, has to be a bad idea. Currently we have several issues that cause major concerns. The controversy over the Coventry Cross; the proposals for the listed Upper Precinct; the six-year old City Centre South comprehensive redevelopment plan. All hugely controversial and well worth a moment to review each one of them.
Whether it’s acceptable to move the Coventry Cross to another location is clearly debatable, but one thing is absolutely certain, it’s a major feature of the medieval Cathedral Quarter and fits well with its sandstone neighbours.
But the Council has decided to favour a nearby Caribbean fusion restaurant, Turtle Bay, that would be the occupier of the land on which the Cross stands.
It might well not be such an issue but for the location of the replica cross within the city’s Hill Top Conservation Area. Demolition within such an area requires any developer to demonstrate that their plan 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. Yet there is no such statement. Not even a proper planning application that members of the public can see. So there is no written justification for the demolition of the Cross. If this all sounds unlikely you can check out the plans on the Council’s Planning Portal. On top of that Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Cllr Jim O’Boyle, has found public money to remove the Cross. Riding roughshod comes to mind.
Objections to proposals that would seriously affect the historically important Upper Precinct were submitted by the Twentieth Century Society recently. Here are some pointers from its letter:
‘The covered areas of the public realm are a key feature of the Upper Precinct as a public amenity, and the Society is opposed to their removal. The infill of the colonnade areas is an infringement on the public space that was at the centre of Gibson’s design.
‘The Society is also opposed to the removal of the canopies to M&S and BHS, as these are important period features that create a strong visual link across the axis of the Upper Precinct, Lower Precinct, Market Way and Smithford Way.
‘Proposed alterations to the Upper Precinct and Market Way facades of the former BHS store are in no way sympathetic to the original features of the listed building.
‘The removal of the ramp has the potential to open up views through the Upper Precinct to the Cathedral, however we are concerned that this access has not been provided elsewhere and will have an adverse effect on the circulation around the upper tier. The removal of the bridges between the North and South link blocks will also remove a key feature of the original layout of the Upper Precinct.
‘The proposed entrance archway to the West Orchards Shopping Centre is unsympathetic to the minimal decorative detailing of the original buildings.’
On a positive note we all agree that the removal of the intrusive escalator and proposal to reinstate period railings and lighting to the balcony areas will help restore the Precinct’s heritage status.
We also endorse the Twentieth Century Society’s disappointment when we see that the scheme has undergone minimal revision in light of the newly listed status of the buildings occupying the site.
Of some significance is the Council’s refusal to make the 20th Century letter available to the public.
City Centre South
My article in July said how it’s understandable our City Fathers should want to see our retail offer move up the rankings, but shouldn’t we really be taking a fresh look at the grandiose City Centre South scheme granted outline planning consent all those years ago in 2012. Six years ago! Hasn’t the retail trade moved on since those days? Covolution, the city’s one-stop guide to independent food and drink couldn’t agree more. It said: “ I’d be surprised if the council can even find an ‘anchor’ department store group that is expanding at the moment. The changing retail economy means that most of them are closing stores, rather than opening new ones and because of that, the whole City Centre scheme needs re-thinking. What is expanding is the so-called ‘experience economy’ – and that is all about uniqueness and offering what cannot be had elsewhere. This is where Coventry city centre should be heading – preserving and exploiting its heritage mid-century architecture and promoting independent businesses within it. With a revamp, City Arcade would be the perfect setting.”
So where are we now? Thirty small retailers in the proposed redevelopment area have no security of tenure. According to several traders in the area the Council is offering little or nothing for their future.
However let’s be optimistic. Surely it’s not hard to imagine a thriving enclave of small retailers in a revamped Bull Yard, Shelton Square, City Arcade ‘village’. Is it?
We are still waiting for a meeting with the Council over the City Centre South comprehensive redevelopment plan.
Once again, riding roughshod comes to mind.
Culture is all about heritage and the wonderful stories behind it. Think speciality shops. Think City of Culture 2021.