It’s Time to Choose Our Future!

Adam-Tranter-Bicycle-Mayor

The Coventry Society is campaigning for a different vision for Coventry as we come out of the Covid epidemic. Part of the necessary change is the way that we move about our city. We asked Coventry’s Bicyle Mayor, Adam Tranter, to give us his thoughts on this important issue. 

Just 6% of people want to go back to the way things were, cites a recent YouGov poll. It’s an incredible but believable stat given what we’ve all learned about ourselves and our communities during lock down.

During months of incredible adversity, we caught a glimpse of what a greener, friendlier and more equitable future could look like. We rediscovered our local communities, reevaluated the importance of neighbourhood and reconnected with the outdoors. While other transport modes plummeted, according to government figures, cycling saw a huge increase – as much as 200% in places. In May, according to Strava Metro data, cycling trips in Coventry had doubled versus the same time in the previous year.

Almost everybody had noticed the change. Families took their bikes out of the sheds and experienced the physical and mental benefits of riding a bike. Rather than putting bikes in the back of a car to drive to a park, people found their local communities to be pleasant, safe and welcoming enough on two wheels to make new journeys and replace previous ones, usually taken by car.

Modal share for cycling has remained at 2% for decades. Every piece of research tells the same story; more people won’t cycle unless they feel safe. While cycling is statistically safe (it’s safer than walking, per mile travelled, in the UK), in normal times, it doesn’t feel safe. Roller coasters are statistically safe too, but you wouldn’t want to go to work everyday in one.

Despite only a minority of people wanting to return to normal, that’s exactly where we’re heading. As we’re told to return to work and restart the economy, old habits are back. Car usage is nearly at pre-lockdown levels and, as a consequence, cycle trips are falling.

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It doesn’t have to be this way. It’s time to choose our future and the time for change is now.

I believe that many in Coventry want a change in direction that makes the city a welcoming place for people, not just machines. Our famed ring road, the 20th century version of a city wall, acts as a huge barrier to people looking to travel to the city centre by foot or by bike.

New research released in July 2020 shows that 6.5 people are in favour of local measures to support cycling and walking for every 1 person against. Measures to enable cycling aren’t controversial like some would think; there is a clear mandate from the public to reallocate space and change the ways our towns and cities work for people.

Change is happening and that should be applauded. There’s a new high quality segregated cycle route in Coundon and another high quality cycleway connecting the city centre with Binley Business Park and University Hospital. These measures represent a step change from the norm for cycling in Coventry, but if we’re to reach the potential for cycling in the city, we need more. And fast.

The Local Air Quality Action Plan tackles the instruction from central government to clean up Coventry’s toxic air, in the form of NO2; one of the key contributing factors to air quality is diesel vehicles, especially private vehicles which carry the fewest number of passengers. Buses, while contributing to poor air quality, do not make a dent on the impact made in Coventry by the use of private vehicles, many for short trips. In the West Midlands, 41% of car journeys are under 2 miles; a distance easily cycled or walked for many.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that governments were encouraging us to buy diesel vehicles; the same vehicles that now need to go in the name of public health.

For a city steeped in manufacturing and motor history, we need to be careful that we don’t sleepwalk into an electrified version of the status quo. Now, the government is rushing towards adoption of electric vehicles (EVs), despite them not solving many of the issues that combustion engined vehicles bring.

Electric vehicles still cause congestion and share many of the same negative impacts on wider society as their combustion engined cousins. What’s more, they still produce pollution through tiny particular particulate matter air pollution. While the impact is not yet fully understood, early indications suggest PM2.5 can have an impact on a child’s brain development. That’s before we even talk about the fact that the entry level price of £20,000 is way out of reach of all but the most wealthy of citizens.

There is a much simpler solution frequently ignored in favour of high-tech solutions. Instead of driverless cars, we need more car-less drivers.

We need to use the right tool for the job and, for many urban trips, cycling or walking are great options for many people. Across the country, 68% of all journeys are under 5 miles. Nearby in Birmingham, they have around 300,000 daily journeys by car under one mile. These journeys are having a considerable impact on our communities and the health of our neighbours.

Before the car in Coventry, the city was the world’s heart of bicycle manufacturing with the city’s pioneers producing some of the designs still in use today. John Kemp Starley’s modern safety bicycle design is the most prevalent type of bicycle in use in the Netherlands (adopted as the “omafiets”), where in some cities, over 50% of trips are taken by bikes. Over 140 years later, a human traveling on a bicycle at 10–15 mph, using only the power required to walk, is still the most energy-efficient means of human transport available.

I don’t have a crystal ball but I do believe there’s a strong chance that it won’t be long before we’re told to ditch electric vehicles, just as we have been with diesel. Other cities around the world are discovering that cities have to be for people and – in times of retail uncertainty – city centres need to be destinations and experiences. A city dominated by motor vehicles and the associated infrastructure required for them, namely car parks, rarely provides this.

There are lots of exciting developments in the city but, as The Coventry Society is already doing, we need to have a close eye on whether these opportunities are fit to take us into the future. I read with interest the society’s alternative plans for City Centre South; through speaking with the developers, it looks unlikely that any of the areas within the complex will be permitted for cycling.

This, along with other residential developments in the city, is locking in car dependency. Coventry City Centre is, in places, great for pedestrians; we’re rumoured to have Europe’s first pedestrianised shopping centre (Upper Precinct). But currently we’re heavily reliant on motor vehicle trips to get into the city centre, especially at a time where public transport is at just 30% of capacity. We should remember that 33% of people don’t have access to a car in Coventry.

We need to be bold. Doing so will not only help clean up our toxic air but bring together a more equitable city, helping narrow some of the health and social inequalities that we face. I and many others believe that bicycles will have a significant positive impact for its residents and the city’s development.

The time for change is now!

Adam Tranter is the Bicycle Mayor for Coventry, co-host of Streets Ahead podcast and CEO of communications agency, Fusion Media.

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Photo – Coventry Telegraph

Piles Coppice – the WWT Response

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Warwickshire Wildlife Trust has responded to our article on Monday “Conservationists Fall out over Piles Coppice”.

Nick Feledziak, Dunsmore Woodlands and Brandon Marsh Officer, writes

“To give you a bit of background, the consultation surrounding this management plan is an early stage consultation that was sent out to local neighbours, stakeholders and wildlife/ environmental conservation groups in June and is not a public consultation at this stage. I understand the plans have been shared more widely by certain stakeholders who have voiced their opinion out of context and without any explanation of the Trust’s rationale or the scale of the work intended.”

In an attached press release the Trust states

“Warwickshire Wildlife Trust advocates for actively managing wildlife habitats for biodiversity and sustainable woodland management can help secure the long term future of woodlands.  As demonstrated by science, trees of different ages and varied structures due to cyclical felling, thinning and coppicing will attract a bigger range of wildlife, and will also be more resilient to pests, diseases and climate change. Therefore, one of the biggest threats to our woodlands is the decision not to manage them.

“Parts of the woodlands and Brandon Reach and Piles Coppice haven’t seen management since around the 1950s, and particularly in Piles Coppice the woodland has almost fully closed over and consists mainly of deteriorating and even-aged small leaved lime coppice stools and closed-canopy oak high forest. Whilst this type of woodland benefits many common species adapted for such conditions, some of the threatened and rare species that require a varied structure and differing levels of light and micro-climates are in danger of being squeezed out. The woodland is also lacking enough canopy gaps and light to encourage the next generation of trees to come through, which would replace the older trees once they reach the end of their natural life expectancy. This is particularly concerning in a woodland made up of mainly similar aged trees, and threatens the long-term stability of the wood.

“Following two years of monitoring wildlife and engaging with local groups and individuals, Warwickshire Wildlife Trust are currently developing plans to establish how to reintroduce sensitive management in a woodland that has not been managed for some time. The Trust is currently liaising with local stakeholders, including neighbours, environmental groups and wildlife conservation experts in order to best balance the protection many individual important features within the woodlands. Following this consultation and the implementation of any adaptations, the plans will then need to be approved by the Forestry Commission who will assess the plans against the UK Forestry Standards (UKFS) which is the UK government’s approach to sustainable woodland management.  To gain approval, the plans will have to address the protection of biodiversity, the woodland’s protection from climate change and consider the historic environment, the current landscape, and the people who currently use the woodland. The plans will also need to protect the important woodland soils and natural water courses.

“Within Brandon Reach, the focus will also be on thinning out ash trees in favour of alternative species. The disease ash die-back has been devastating ash trees throughout the country as it sweeps its way north, and has now reached the Coventry area. As the ash trees die they become dangerous to people and property, and where they form the majority of a woodland, as within parts of Brandon Reach, the ecology of the woodland can also be threatened. So, Warwickshire Wildlife Trust is planning ahead by removing potentially hazardous trees and thinning woodland blocks in favour of alternative native species. This should add some resilience to the woodland and provide long-term protection for wildlife and people.

“The management work will be in part achieved by contractors and whilst woodland management can appear destructive, cause temporary inconvenience, and hamper accessibility – the woodland soon recovers.  During these works the contractors will avoid using the path network wherever possible and any areas that are disturbed will be repaired before works are completed.

“Locals can get involved in their local woodlands by volunteering with the Trust, and the charity aims to provide positive opportunity and continued access for local people through our woodland management; making them healthy and vibrant places for both people and wildlife.”

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Nick Feledziak adds “We haven’t fallen out with the Coventry Tree Warden Network. We have engaged positively with a range of stakeholders including some who a very emotive view of the wood. We have met the Coventry Tree Wardens on several occasions to discuss our plans and hear their concerns.

“We refute the claim that the motivation is firewood and that unsuitable machinery is the intention, this appears to be the opinion of Ms. Wilson. We manage woodlands for the long term benefit of wildlife and people, not for commercial gain.”

We are happy to publish this added information.

Conservationists Fall Out over Piles Coppice!

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Wood Anemones in Piles Coppice

There has been a falling out between dedicated conservationists in the city about the management of a small wood known as Piles Coppice, which is located next to the Eastern Bypass in Binley Woods.  Despite its name Piles Coppice is a mature ancient woodland with large trees and high canopy which has had little intervention over recent decades.

According to Coventry Tree Warden, Ann Wilson, “[Piles Coppice] is incredibly special, a tiny remnant of the ancient forest of Arden, even mentioned in the Doomsday book and unchanged for hundreds of years. It is recognised as possibly the most important wood in the Midlands.” Ann claims that the woodland is older than any of Coventry’s buildings.

“… the biodiversity we have recorded there is amazing, 120 moths, over 30 birds, over 100 plants, 16 butterflies, 27 different trees, (many veterans and ancients), bats everywhere. Some species never found in Warwickshire before, one Red Data Book moth and one fungus only ever recorded in Hampshire. We firmly believe that these rarities are only there because the wood has been undisturbed for so long. Their habitat is under serious threat if this plan is approved. It should be left for Nature to look after as it has done so successfully up till now.”

The wood is owned by the Woodland Trust and is protected by a Tree Preservation Order. However management of the wood has recently passed to Warwickshire Wildlife Trust as an extension to Brandon Marsh Nature Reserve.

The plan that Ann and her colleagues is objecting to is not to build on the wood or fell it, but to carry out what is claimed to be essential maintenance.

Ann states that “Apart from path clearance, it has remained untouched for over 80 years, including the last 30 while the Woodland Trust, who currently own it and until recently, made the decision to leave it undisturbed. They have now handed it over to the Wildlife Trust who insist it needs “managing”. They have just released a plan to start felling trees and opening up the rides. There have never been any rides in this historic wood. This will mean literally tearing the wood apart with heavy machinery, destroying wildlife and habitat, selling rare and ancient trees for firewood and pumping all the carbon they are storing back into the air.

“The bluebells and anemones, which are the best in Warwickshire, will be swamped by bracken and brambles. This wood is healthy, stable and the wildlife is thriving, even though it is adjacent to a busy dual carriageway. Their plans do not make any sense.

“We are already losing so much to HS2, we cannot let it happen here.”

The Coventry Society does not have the expertise to put forward a view on these proposals. We recognise that the Wildlife Trust will have employed the best experts in putting forward its plans, but the vehemence and concern of local enthusiasts cannot just be ignored. We believe that all parties have common goals, which include the preservation and enhancement of diverse wildlife and the mitigation of global warming.

We hope that those concerned can come to an understanding – if not agreement – on how to deal with these issues.

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Bluebells in Piles Coppice

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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CovSoc Finds a New Home

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The Coventry Society is pleased to announce that it is moving to a new home for its monthly meetings.

After several years of meeting at the Shopfront Theatre in City Arcade, from the end of the lock-down the Society will be meeting at The Old Grammar School in Hales Street.

Vince Hammersley, Chair of the Society, said “We are extremely grateful to Theatre Absolute who provided us with a home at the Shopfront Theatre when we were homeless. Looking to the future we feel that The Old Grammar School better meets our needs and we are happy to be supporting one of Coventry’s iconic historic buildings. Our thanks to Culture Coventry for making this move possible and we look forward to working together closer in the future.”

The Old Grammar School is a Grade 1 Listed Building which dates back to the 12th Century. It was originally the chapel and the Hospital of St John and was used as a Grammar School from 1545.

The building was recently restored with funding from the Heritage Lottery and the European Regional Development Fund.

The Coventry Society has had a long history with the Old Grammar School having campaigned for its restoration and re-use over many years. The Society declared the building to be one of “The Big Five” in a campaign to save the city’s iconic historic buildings (the others being Whitefriars, County Hall, Draper’s Hall and the Charterhouse).

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CovSoc supporting Heritage Open Days at the Old Grammar School

The Society has helped staff the Old Grammar School on Heritage Open Days for several years and the Society held its first Heritage Conference at the Old Grammar School in 2019.

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The Future of Coventry’s Past, CovSoc Heritage Conference 2019

Following the restoration of the building the Society put it forward for the 2016 Design Awards from Civic Voice and received a “Highly commended” status, with a plaque which is on display there. The Civic Voice awards are unique in that all entries are nominated by local Civic Societies. The Coventry Society nominated The Old Grammar School because of the importance of the scheme for the city and the quality of the restoration work.

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Installing the Civic Voice Plaque

The Society is hoping that it will be able to hold its first post lock-down public meeting on Monday 12th October 2020, subject to the regulations permitting it at that time. The meeting will include tours of the building, a short AGM (delayed from April) and presentations by members of the Society. When permitted the building will also be able to offer a bar for refreshments before and after meetings.

There is more about the Old Grammar School here: