Reprieve for the Paris?

The Coventry Society’s campaign to save the former Paris Cinema in Far Gosford Street has made some progress with the withdrawal of the planning application to demolish the building and construct a student accommodation block.

Although neither the Council nor the applicant has commented on the reason for the withdrawal, there are a few clues in the consultation responses.

The City Council chooses not to publish the public response to the application, but is obliged by law to report the responses of statutory consultees.

The Policy Team is satisfied with the principle of building student accommodation in this location and supports the application.

Environmental Protection has required a considerable amount of additional information before giving a response. They are concerned about the quality of the noise assessment, which has been made during the lock-down when fewer people are around and clubs are closed. They are also concerned about air quality with a canyon effect being created on Far Gosford Street. They have also asked where arriving students will be dropped off as there is no parking with the scheme.

The Urban Design team, whilst being happy with some elements of the design, has concerns about the closeness of other student blocks and requires a greater separation between existing and future developments.

The most damning criticism of the scheme comes from the Conservation Team. They state “The proposed demolition of the Empire Nightclub would represent total loss of significance to the non-designated heritage asset, and cause harm to the setting of the conservation area. The submitted Heritage, Design and Access Statement, contains less than 1 ½ pages of text devoted to ‘Heritage’, and does not provide a detailed assessment of the significance of the Empire building and how it relates to the significance of the wider conservation area. There has been no impact assessment to understand how its demolition and subsequent total loss of significance would detrimentally impact on the setting and character of the conservation area, nor how the proposed 6 storey, 100 bedroomed student accommodation would result in a significant change of character to the conservation area.

“Because of the prevailing small-scale building types and character of the buildings within the conservation area there is reduced opportunity to create a landmark building and the addition of large scale on the frontage of Far Gosford Street would create an uncomfortable relationship with the wider area. The proposed building would overbear and overshadow the area [our emphasis].

“The applicant needs to provide clear and convincing justification for the total loss of the Empire Nightclub, as per paragraph 194 of the NPPF. An assessment of the setting of the site and the conservation area should be carried out, according to guidelines set out in Historic England’s ’The Setting of Heritage Assets’ Historic Environment Good Practice Advice in Planning Note 3. The applicant should be able to show any harm caused as a result of the proposals is outweighed by public benefit as per paragraph 195 of the NPPF.”

The Conservation Team’s negative comments have been further strengthened by the response of Historic England who have stated “The proposals cannot be described as preserving and enhancing the character of the street as demanded by the legislation and the NPPF.

“There is a serious lack of analysis of the existing buildings on the site and there is no useful analysis of the proposals in terms of their direct impact on the Conservation Area. For example, there is no consideration of the impact of this large building in visual terms on the surrounding area. Nor is there any adequate analysis of the impact on the setting of other heritage assets in line with the methodology set out in the Historic England advice note on the subject of setting.

“Without that robust assessment we are left with serious concerns that the scheme will be harmful to the Conservation Area and the nearby heritage assets.”

It is clear from these comments that had the application not been withdrawn; the Planning Committee would have had to refuse planning permission for the development. In many similar cases, the historic building will have been vacant for many years and demolition justified by the lack of viable uses for them. However in this case the building was in good productive use right up to the point that the owner gave notice to The Empire to vacate the building.

Any replacement building would therefore have to be justified on the basis of it improving the Conservation Area. This would require a building that was of a scale and appearance that respected and complemented the existing buildings in the Conservation Area. A large student block is unlikely to be able to meet this requirement.

We await the future with interest.

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