High Rise Students

IMG_9938

For decades in the post-war years the City Council was hoping that people would move back into the city centre. It was written into all the post-war plans for the city. But people didn’t want to live there and builders didn’t want to build housing there.

All that has changed now! The expansion of university education, the growth of Coventry’s two universities and the attraction of foreign students, many of whom are much more affluent than local students, has brought tens of thousands more students to the city. Private developers have been falling over themselves to build accommodation for them – much of it in high rise blocks in or adjoining the city centre.

The Government’s National Planning Policy Framework gives the green light to all but the very worst forms of development and so a hands-off approach has been adopted by the city planners. The market has been left to sort out supply and demand. In addition Government policy now permits offices to be converted into housing (i.e. student housing) without the need for even the light touch requirements of current planning law.

The result of this approach can be seen by any visitor to the city centre, with two dozen high rise blocks, many in bold colours, dominating our historic city centre. We estimate that there are at least 24,000 students living in purpose built accommodation in the city, 15,000 of these are in or close to the city centre.

There are both positive and negative aspects to this change in the life of our city.

On the positive side, the housing of thousands of young people brings significant economic benefit to the city and to the cafes, pubs, restaurants and shops here. It brings jobs and it adds diversity, energy and innovation to our community and public life. There is also what is called the multiplier affect: for every 100 university employees it has been calculated that a further 99 jobs are created in the wider economy.

Some new development has brought historic buildings back into use. For instance the new Eden Square development on Stoney Stanton Road has led to the restoration of the historic Nurses Home and Operating Theatres (the Dalek Block) at the former Coventry and Warwick Hospital. The creation of a huge number of student rooms at Weaver Place has cross subsidised the redevelopment of the former Telegraph offices as a boutique hotel. The development of Millennium Place has generated resources for the daylighting of the River Sherbourne at Palmer Lane.

The new buildings are more energy efficient than the older homes in the suburbs and being built close to the city centre reduces the need for public and private transport, both of which are good for the environment.

The reduced demand for the conversion of family homes in the inner city areas, in theory releases affordable homes for families and other groups of people in need, for example single homeless people.  This is actually happening now in some parts of the city. Coventry University reports that there has been a “significant drop” in the number of students going into private rented accommodation – from around 2,500 10 years ago to some 800 today. The City Council has started to purchase home like these to house homeless people.

However there is not evidence yet that families are moving back into inner city neighbourhoods and it is clear that there has been little or no reduction in the conversion of family houses to HiMOs in areas such as Earlsdon, Cannon Park and Canley. Applications for HiMOs are still coming in steadily, including some high value homes in the south west of the city.

Budget changes in relation to mortgage tax relief and the recent Council decision to introduce licensing to control the conversion of homes to Houses in Multiple Occupation (HiMOs) make the student market less attractive to private landlords, so we wait to see if this policy is effective.

On the negative side, the towering blocks are not to everyone’s taste and some of them have been permitted to loom over some of our city’s most magnificent heritage – for example Spon Street Conservation Area, St. John the Baptist Church and Whitefriar’s Monastery. The garish coloured blocks will hardly be winning any design awards.

IMG_9902

Secondly, student blocks take up valuable city centre land that might otherwise generate business rates.

Whilst the Council and local people are losing money, the companies providing the accommodation are posting multi-million pound profits, little of which will be coming back to the city. Of course these arguments apply, perhaps to a lesser extent, to the local landlords in inner city areas who also don’t pay business rates or the community charge.

The seeming take-over of the city centre by University students appears intimidating for many Coventry residents and many citizens lament what they see being done to the city. Comments made on Social Media include the following:

“Enough is enough, not enough social housing”

“Don’t want anymore in the city centre. Too many already”

“They should re-name this city the City of Students”

“This seems to be completely speculative and frenzied: like Coventry’s 21stC version of the South Sea Bubble. If the bottom drops out of the student accommodation market – what a mess!”

“I feel sad when I continue to see more tower blocks going up. Heritage is too costly to maintain & incorporate into designs. Especially when it’s about fast money – and wonder what will happen when the bubble bursts.”

Should the City Council and the universities just ignore these views of Coventry citizens, or should they demonstrate what benefit the city is receiving from all this change?

After the War, Coventry acquired a planned city centre with an overall concept, structure and layout that was unique at the time. Apart from a small number of buildings in strategic places, the newly built centre rarely exceeded five storeys in height and had a design and appearance that gave it coherence. Much of that has been compromised or, at worst, destroyed.

We now see very little pro-active planning. Coventry’s city centre is almost like an experiment to see what will happen if we don’t plan anything. Where will it end?

One of our members asked one of the developers whether the student block could be converted to other forms of accommodation if it turned out that it was not needed for students. The reply was “Well you would have to gut it first.” Furthermore it would lack some of the facilities normally required of residential accommodation – such as car parking. But interestingly at least one London Borough only approves student blocks if they are capable of being converted into family accommodation. At present this would not happen in Coventry.

The recent experience of Corvid-19 surely raises concerns about the future of the Higher Education market. The Guardian recently headlined “Universities face funding crisis due to coronavirus”. It reported that “British Universities face a black hole of hundreds of millions of pounds in tuition fees from the impact of coronavirus”. Will this be just a short-term problem or will the affect be longer lasting? Even a short term shortfall could lead to the bankruptcy of companies serving the student market. Will we be left with a skyline of half completed developments? In the longer term, will Chinese authorities continue to permit students to travel overseas for their education? What will be the impact of Brexit on students coming from the EU?

The Coventry Society is not opposed to students coming to our city: even in large numbers! We welcome them! We believe that they add to the vibrancy and energy of our city and contribute to our economic wellbeing.

But we don’t believe that we can continue with this ad hoc approach to planning. We want the City Council to get a grip on the situation. We want a proper assessment of the need for future student accommodation. We want a proper plan of where any future student blocks should be located. We want a proper policy to limit the height of new developments. We want the protection of our historic heritage and the important views and perspectives of our heritage buildings. In particular we want proper consultation with Coventry residents on future plans and planning applications. Enough laissez faire – lets have some proper planning and some proper consultation!

What do you think?

Upgrading the Guildhall

Guildhall_Bayley_Lane

Major plans are developing to make St. Mary’s Guildhall fit for the 21st Century. A dual faceted approach is being proposed – with a heritage offering and a commercial offering. A total of £5.5 million is to be spent on the building. This major investment is needed because of the deteriorating condition of the building and the City Council is fully committed to the scheme.

A lot of funding has already been secured for the project including £2.2 million from the City of Culture allocation and £620,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund. A further bid for £1.7 million is being considered by the Heritage Lottery Fund. However the Council has committed that the project will go ahead even if the grant awards are not forthcoming; the money will instead be raised from loans.

The heritage work will include restoration of the medieval kitchen and conservation and showcasing of the tapestry. Work will also include improving accessibility, toilets etc. The scheme will extend into parts of the Council House that were previously separate from the Guildhall, including the Ellen Terry Suite. There will also be interactive digital displays and other educational space and activities.

The commercial offering includes new posts to support education and marketing. A new purpose built commercial kitchen will be built in the courtyard behind the Council House. There will also be a new conference suite and facilities. The hall will continue to be used for weddings.

The work will mean the Guildhall will be closed for at least part of the City of Culture Year. The plans are for the phased re-opening between March and June 2021, although there is a lot of scope for delays. Over the next few months there will be public consultation and a Listed Building application. Work has already started on the stripping out of the kitchen.

The Medieval Kitchen at St. Mary’s Guildhall

Don’t Lose Your Way – Saving the Country’s Footpaths

LostFootpaths
A rescued footpath in the Peak District. Photograph: Don’t Lose Your Way

According to the Ramblers our footpaths “are one of the country’s most precious assets, hidden in plain sight, and often taken for granted.

“Shaped by our ancestors over centuries, they tell the stories of our landscape, our history and our heritage, they describe how generations before us travelled to the pub, field or shops, and they allow everyone to enjoy the countryside, both on our doorstep and across Britain’s iconic landscapes.

“But an estimated 10,000 miles of paths across England and Wales are at risk of being lost forever, unless we come together to save them.”

All rights of way must be identified before a government deadline of 2026, after which it will no longer be possible to add old paths to the official record.

The walking group Ramblers is calling on walkers, historians and map enthusiasts to use a new mapping tool to identify missing footpaths.

The online tool divides the country into 150,000 1km squares so users can compare historic and current maps side by side, spot any differences and submit missing paths. Once mapped, Ramblers will recruit volunteers to make applications to restore paths to local authorities before the 2026 deadline.

Under English common law, rights of way do not expire but the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 required all rights of way to be recorded. The Ramblers is calling on the government to extend the deadline for registering historic paths by at least five years.

The preservation of historic rights of way is not only an issue in rural areas. In many built up areas, footpaths between and behind houses that may have been the continuation of ancient rights of way are often vulnerable to being blocked up or taken into gardens.

Coventry Society Secretary, John Payne, has signed up for the online map tool and tried it out for us. John states “It is a very easy tool to use. You choose a map square to examine and are presented with a map of a 1 km square with an up to date OS map and an older OS map from between 1883 and 1913. Both maps are shown, with a slider so that you can move between the two maps. You then mark any footpaths that exist on the older map but not on the newer one. You don’t need to know the area you are checking, but its more interesting if you do.“

You can access the mapping tool here.

Dontloseway

Half a Century of Civic Care

Screen Shot 2019-04-06 at 21.07.32

The Coventry Society was formed in 1970 as the Coventry Civic Amenity Society by a group of people concerned at the loss of some 80 historic and listed buildings in the City which had either been destroyed or were under threat of destruction. The most significant at that time was seen to be Kirby House, one of only three buildings with a classical Georgian façade still left in the City Centre. It was also considered to be one of the finest in Warwickshire.

KirbyHouse
Kirby House, Little Park Street, Coventry

A group of enthusiasts came together and began a campaign to save the building. It was this group of people whose determination and enthusiasm eventually triumphed saving this important, attractive and historic building. They went on to form the Coventry Civic Amenity Society.

IMG_1699

The Coventry Society exists today to act as a watchdog over all developments which may affect properties or open spaces of character in the City. It actively encourages conservation and enhancement schemes, to foster pride in the City. It seeks to promote quality in the built and green environment. The Society encourages the active involvement of its members in these aims and to bring to the attention of the wider population plans affecting important or historic building and sites of public amenity.

The Society today has developed links with the City Council and gives support and encouragement to other local groups dealing with matters of community concern, particularly with respect to historic buildings, conservation areas and planning proposals. We have gone on to form strong relationships with national bodies such as Historic England and most recently Civic Voice; we were the first civic society to join the organisation when it formed in 2010.

Over the years the Coventry Society have carried out significant research and auditing to encourage the City Council to designate several locations within the City as Conservation Areas, thereby giving them considerable protection against unwelcome or inappropriate development. Examples of these include Hill Top, Chapelfields, Hawkesbury Junction and the Canal Basin.

However, no matter how hard we work and campaign, we are not always successful and sadly many historic sites and much-loved buildings have been lost to us. The Drill Hall, Barr’s Hill House, Coventry Theatre, Theatre One and the old Wheatley Street School are amongst those buildings which no longer exist. The Coventry Cross being one of the most recent structures to have been torn down.

P1130119_edited-1

The Society led a campaign to save the “Big Five” – five emblematic buildings that were at that time all under threat (County Hall, the Old Grammar School, Draper’s Hall, Charterhouse and Whitefriars). The Society organised a conference to focus attention on these buildings and later was part of the establishment of the Coventry Charterhouse Trust, which became the Coventry Heritage Trust, with many Coventry buildings now its responsibility. All of these buildings has been given a secure future, although we might have to wait for a few years to see Whitefriars put to a more suitable use.

The Society has been actively involved in the national Heritage Open Days celebrations. We were involved in the first ever event in 1994 and we have been involved every year since, celebrating 25 years of Heritage Open Days last year. We have also been involved in the annual Civic Day events, which are held on the nearest Saturday to midsummer.

IMG_20140621_151830
CovSoc member, Les Fawcett, after helping clean up the River Sherbourne for Civic Day 2014.

Last year the Society organised an important Heritage Conference, bringing together all the organisations in the city that are involved in the city’s heritage. This was a great success and we are planning to repeat it this year and possibly make it an annual event. This complements our regular programme of talks and visits to enlighten ourselves and our members about architecture, arts, planning and history.

The Society is sometimes mistakenly thought to be a historical society. Whilst we are very interested in the city’s history and its conservation, we are equally interested in ensuring that there is quality in the city’s development and design. We campaign on public art, street planning, trees, green spaces and the maintenance of the environment. We welcome good quality new architecture as well as respecting old and post war buildings and environments.

P1010700
Paul Maddocks leading a Public Art tour for Civic Day 2016

Today as many Coventrians will not fail to notice, our City has been changing out of all recognition. Although some of the developments have been completed or are being converted with a great deal of sympathy for our City heritage, such as the Telegraph building and the old Co-op, many other developments have given little recognition to Coventry as an important medieval City. The importance of the unique and internationally acclaimed post war architectural heritage of Coventry cannot be understated, and it is a serious concern which is occupying a great deal of time and effort by the Coventry Society today.

As we move towards our fifty first year we are keeping a watching eye on the current threats to our heritage: Civic Centre 2, the Swimming Baths, the Sport Centre and the villas on Warwick Road are just some of the buildings we perceive as being under threat. We look forward to next year’s City of Culture and hope that people will focus on the city’s amazing history and heritage, as well as its youth and diversity.

If you support the above agenda, why not join the Society.

40% of Global Warming?

40% of Global Warming

According to the United Nations Environment Program, buildings and their construction together account for 36 percent of global energy use and 39 percent of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions annually.

The Built Environment has had an enormous impact on the constantly rising greenhouse effect. Materials, construction, and even transportation have influenced our environment in numerous ways. However, will the development of technologies and raising awareness of this problem be enough for architects, designers and engineers to reduce the 40%? What are the ways to achieve this? And who or what is the problem?

The impact of the built environment on global warming is the subject of a major international symposium being organised by Architecture students of Coventry University this month.

The symposium, which is being organised in collaboration with Coventry Modern, is being held at the Old Grammar School on Thursday 12th March 2020 from 14:00 – 17:00.

The event is open to the public and you can purchase tickets on the door (please arrive well before the  start time). The charge is £5 for members of the public, with discounts for university students and staff.

In addition there will be an exhibition of works showing architectural excellence in the bid to reduce the impact of design on climate change. This is being held at the Cathedral from 13th – 16th March and The Hub at Coventry University from 17th March – 9th April. The exhibition is described as follows:

“As part of Coventry Modern, discover outstanding building projects from Germany which showcase the successes of energy-efficient construction. Explore design possibilities that help combat climate change and be inspired by innovative ways of saving energy with new build and refurbished buildings.

“Presented by The Architects Chamber of Saxony with its headquarter in Coventry’s twin city of Dresden this exhibition finds its way to Coventry Cathedral and The HUB at Coventry University as part of an international tour. The content of the exhibition is also supported by the Saxon Energy Agency – SAENA GmbH. Coventry Modern is a collaboration between the Great Place Project and Coventry University.”

You can visit the exhibition during opening times at these two venues. Booking is not needed.

 

The Arts Society Coventry – Postponed

Sheldon Tapestry Coventry
Sheldon Tapestry

Update – due to the current Covid-19 Epidemic, the inaugural meeting of the new Arts Society Coventry will no longer take place on 24th March. We will advise you of the new arrangements when they are known. More information is available on the Arts Society website. 

The Arts Society is an educational charity founded in 1965 to promote interest in and access to the arts. It has over 380 branches worldwide providing opportunities for the 90,000+ members to hear expert lecturers share their specialist knowledge in the Arts.

As Coventry 2021 approaches it seemed shocking that there wasn’t a Coventry Arts Society. So a group of local enthusiasts have founded one and organised an exciting programme of meetings.  These will take place on the fourth Tuesday of every month in the evening at The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum.

The inaugural lecture on 24 March 2020 will be ‘Selfies, self-expression and the Victorian carte de visite’ a new lecture from popular accredited lecturer and BBC Antiques Roadshow expert, Mark Hill.

Drinks will be served from 6.30pm and the lecture will start at 7.00pm.

Details of the excellent programme of lectures for the remainder of 2020 are as follows:

28 April – Titian, the first modern artist

26 May – The Art of Melancholy

23 June – The Punch and Judy Show

22 September – Medieval Buildings in Coventry

27 October – The Creative Courtesan

24 November – Raphael: A Master in the Making

There is more information on the Arts Society Coventry website.

For more information about joining the Society please email membership.coventry@theartssociety.org

Coventry’s Heritage Again under Threat

Proposed Student Flats in Warwick Road

A site in Coventry city centre is again under threat only six months after developers were persuaded to withdraw their unsuitable planning application. The site, adjoining Greyfriars Green Conservation Area, includes a characterful 1960s office block and the only two remaining late Victorian villas that were once part of a row fronting the green.

The proposed development includes two blocks of student flats, one of which is fourteen storeys and the other twelve. There are 496 student flats aimed at more affluent foreign students at Warwick University.

The draft response of the Coventry Society is as follows:

“The Coventry Society objects to the wholesale demolition of these worthy buildings. They are adjacent to the Greyfriars Green Conservation Area and a number of listed buildings.

We would like to see the original parts of nos. 25 and 29 retained in any redevelopment. We would not object to new development between and behind 25 and 29 providing it is in keeping with the existing frontages and the elegant terrace along the Quadrant, and providing any infill is set back to retain the prominence of the existing buildings.

“We would also like to retain no. 23 Bank house, as it is a good example of the post-war reconstruction of Coventry, but would accept the loss of that building if 25 and 29 can be saved.

“The Heritage Statement attempts to play down the value of the existing buildings. It was written by out-of-town consultants who clearly have no sympathy with the city, and it repeatedly makes false statements.

“Much of the city’s built heritage has been lost through post-war redevelopment. Continuing attrition of worthy buildings has been allowed on the valid principle that the city needs investment and jobs. However, there should be a balance between encouraging investment and preserving buildings of value. We believe that the city council should stand up against unsympathetic development that is driven purely by the quest for profit from off-shore companies. 25 and 29 Warwick Road are prominent parts of the pleasant Warwick Road/Warwick Row street scene and should not be sacrificed.

“We would particularly like the Warwick Road elevation to have only pitched slate roofs.

“We do not support curved elevations that are foreign to the locality. We suggest instead for the elevations to be faceted, i.e. a series of flat facades at slightly different angles to mimic the original piecemeal building development.

“The plans claim the narrow footpath that is part of the highway at Manor House Drive, as part of the site. The highway is owned by Coventry City Council so they should be notified under the application form certificate B. Gates and doors must not open onto the highway, and the footway needs to be retained for the large number of residents proposed. The plans also claim the footway on Warwick Road as part of the site while it is part of the highway.

“Parking is proposed on the application form but is not shown on the plans, unless the small lay-by shown on Warwick Road on the landscape plan is meant to serve that function. There is no proposed site plan as such. While students are assumed not to have cars, there will be visitors in cars such as parents and tradesmen. The situation will be unmanageable when a large number of parents are dropping off/picking up their offspring at the start and end of each semester.

“There appears to be vehicular access from Warwick Road but no space to turn on site. It will not be satisfactory for vehicles to have to reverse across Warwick Road. There should parking on site, accessed from Manor House Drive.

“The proposed loss of trees on the northern and western boundaries is unnecessary. They should be retained.

“The Retention of Buildings document claims ‘Significant remodelling of the external levels to both building frontages to provide at grade access for all.’ That is not true. There are already ramped entrances at the front of 25 and 29, and further level entry could be provided at the rear if required. The proposal has multiple ground floor levels so the applicant must be confident of providing step-free passage through the site.

“Retaining the front parts of 25 and 29 will add a lot of character to the overall development, while the submitted scheme would be just another large student block and incongruous with the adjacent conservation area.

“The existing floor plans seem to lend themselves to student rooms back and front, with the small middle rooms used as ensuite shower rooms without windows. The rear extensions are of little merit and can be demolished.

“The current application is an improvement on the one in 2019 that was withdrawn, but is still not acceptable and should be refused.

“A satisfactory solution can be found if the developer is willing to respect the city he wants to build in”

Members of the public are encouraged to make their own comments on the application, which can be accessed here. Please look at the plans before making your online comments. The deadline for comments is 19th March 2020.