CovSoc Response to City Centre South

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The Coventry Society has sent in its response to the outline development proposals for City Centre South. The response is included below. The next stage will be the submission of a hybrid planning application later in the year.


Dear Mr Rosen

I am writing on behalf of the Coventry Society to set out our views about City Centre South. Various members of the Society have attended the two public online events and you were kind enough to convene a further meeting with a small number of our members, where further discussion took place.

Prior to the publication of your proposals the Society had already set out the framework by which we will be judging and commenting on the scheme. You can find this at:

https://news.coventrysociety.org.uk/2020/06/05/city-centre-south-the-coventry-societys-criteria-for-a-sustainable-city-centre

I set out below our comments in the context of this framework. However before that I would like to say that we found the amount of information provided lamentably low and it is hard to make reasonable judgements on the basis of a few beautifully presented visuals. An unkind person might argue that this was more of a PR exercise than a true community consultation.

In view of the lack of information, we reserve the right to make different assessments when the planning application is submitted.

  1. Respect for Coventry’s heritage.

We know that like us you value the city’s important post-war heritage and built environment.

We welcome the recognition and retention of the market and the improvement of its setting that you propose. We recognise that at the moment the building appears to be set in a service area. We have had approaches from many of the market traders who feel that they have not been consulted on the proposals and many false rumours appear to have spread. We would encourage you to make early and direct contact with the traders, independently of the City Council.

Whilst we appreciate the improvement of the setting of the market, we had hoped for a more imaginative and active conservation project for the market. We recently received a presentation on the building from a young design student called Matt Willemsen and you can see his presentation on our Youtube Channel at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iquw-tB3Gps

Whilst we are not by any means suggesting that Matt’s proposal is a solution for the market, we were impressed by the imagination and scope of thinking and we are hopeful that something of this might be incorporated into the City Centre South Scheme in due course.

Perhaps the most controversial part of the City Centre South scheme, from a heritage point of view, is the loss of the City Arcade. Whist we understand your logic for the demolition of the Arcade the “plans” we have seen give no real impression of what is to replace it and we find it hard to make a judgement on whether we gain more that we lose from its demolition.

The City Arcade is one of the few remaining vestiges of independent retailers in a city centre which has become dominated by chain stores and where there are hardly any owner-occupied premises. The retail units are of a size which makes them affordable for independents and whilst the condition of the buildings is at present lamentable, this may represent years of lack of maintenance and under-investment by the City Council rather than anything more fundamental.

We are currently taking advice about the architectural value of the City Arcade and will reserve our views until we receive this.

  1. Retail in the 2020’s

We acknowledge the significant change in the scheme since 2012, recognising the changes in the retail environment. The modest retail offering is a sensible response to the current uncertainty. In our “criteria” we call for an ‘escalator’ to enable private entrepreneurs to start small and develop into larger premises if their ideas prosper. The proposed Pavilion building seems to offer that potential and we welcome it. The market might also offer similar prospects.  We will look to the planning application for a fuller explanation of the proposed retail offering through a retail impact assessment. We will be looking for a mix of rental terms if affordability and variety of retailing is to be created.

  1. Enriching Coventry’s Culture and Leisure

We welcome the suggestion of bringing community and cultural life back to the city centre. We particularly welcome the proposed health facility and would like to know the level of commitment there is to this facility. As suggested by others we would like there to be a Cultural Strategy for the city centre as part of the scheme.

As part of this, we would like to see all of the current public artwork preserved and re-presented, as this will help to give continuity to the city post-war history. We would also like to see more community led performing arts, and in particular Theatre Absolute, find a new home in the city centre.

  1. Housing for all our people

We welcome your proposal to provide 1,300 homes in the city centre, which we understand is double the target set in the City Centre Action Area plan and includes provision for older people. However the City Council has tried to encourage residents to move back to the city centre for decades with little success, except in the case of student housing and we would like to understand the evidence base on which the plans are built.

However we were appalled to hear that there are no plans for affordable housing in the scheme and talk of wanting a diverse community in city centre south and “providing housing for the people of Coventry” is hollow if this is the case. We have consulted the West Midlands Combined Authority about this matter and have received the following assurance “Any scheme proposals will be subject to the usual planning application process and as such, the Local Planning Authority will be responsible for adhering to any national or local policy, including the provision of social housing.” As you are aware the local plan has an expectation of at least 25% social housing.

The Coventry Society will be strongly opposed to any scheme that does not achieve at least 25% affordable housing.

  1. An environment we will love and appreciate

From the visual images provided we welcome the sense of urban form, the streetscape and squares and the improved connectivity in the city centre. The designs that provide for a streetscape that is traffic free, focussed on people with active frontages, and with good connections through the development to the existing city street plan are to be applauded.

However we are disappointed at the lack of exciting proposals to address climate change and energy conservation issues at this time of “a climate emergency”. Surely a scheme on this scale offers massive opportunities to make a real contribution to the Council’s Climate Change Strategy. Energy conservation appears to have been added as an after-thought rather than a fundamental design principle and water conservation does not appear to have been considered at all.

The Society campaigned to retain the canopies in the Upper Precinct in relation to your last scheme in Coventry and we argue again that the design based rejection of shopper and user protection from the elements runs counter to the mitigation needed to address the climate emergency.

We are in a climate emergency, and it is most disconcerting that sustainability issues such as these have not been thought through from the beginning of this project.

Phasing.

We share the view already expressed by our member, Trevor Cornfoot MRTPI, in relation to phasing, i.e. “Greater clarity is needed on the phasing of this whole development so as to explain to the public that not all of it will happen at once, nor even in the form currently suggested, given the economic uncertainties and funding issues.”

We would also argue that with this long timescale, some remedial work is necessary in areas such as the Market and City Arcade, so that they do not decline further during the long wait.

Thank you again for consulting us on this scheme and we look forward to continuing to work with you to achieve a development that is truly worthy of our historic city.

Yours sincerely

Vincent Hammersley

Chair of the Coventry Society

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