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:

 

Jacob Epstein in Auld Reekie

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Paul Maddocks, Deputy Chair of the Coventry Society, writes ….

“I came across this interesting 1961 photograph of the plaster cast of the Jacob Epstein statue of St. Michael and the Devil suspended above Waverley Market, Edinburgh Old Town. I am not sure if any of our Coventry Society members know it full story?

“This photo of the statue suspended over the entrance to Waverley Market was taken in 1961 from Waverley Bridge looking towards Forsyth’s store (now Topshop) in Princes Street. The statue was created by the American-born modern British sculptor, Jacob Epstein to be displayed on the wall of the newly-built Coventry Cathedral. A Memorial Exhibition to Jacob Epstein (1880-1959) was held in Waverley Market in Edinburgh during the 1961 Edinburgh Festival.

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“A local Edinburgh person recalls his visit – ‘The Epstein Exhibition was probably one of the most successful events ever in the lifetime of The Festival. Myself and some of my friends, not arty types in the slightest, were so impressed we went twice. On one of the times we saw Albert Finney who was appearing, if I remember rightly, at The Assembly Hall’

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“The Waverley Market was originally a market for animals etc. but over the years it became a covered area for other attractions like fairs and concerts with a garden on top around the skylights. I wonder if the fact that Sir Basil Spence had his offices and came from Edinburgh had any influence. Especially it being only a year until the Coventry Cathedral was to be opened he may have even had an hand in organising the exhibition?

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“Allan Dodds, of Nottingham, in March 10th, 2010 said – ‘I’ve just conducted some research into the Epstein exhibition and learned that Campbell Harper Films Ltd produced a documentary of it. The Commentator was Tom Fleming whom I met at a ceilidh in Edinburgh. I still have his autograph.’

“The St. Michael and the devil statue must have been a plaster cast as the finished bronze statue weighs four tons and the figure of St. Michael is approximately 6 metres tall and simple scaffolding like this would not be strong for such a weight. Sir Jacob Epstein died on 21 August 1959 (aged 78) at 18 Hyde Park Gate, Kensington, London. The statue constitutes a powerful symbol of the triumphant resurrection of the Cathedral despite the powers of evil and destruction. It was unveiled on the Cathedral in 1961 by Epstein’s widow, Kathleen Esther Garman, Lady Epstein (married 1955-59).”

 

Charterhouse Progress

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On 17th June a small group from the Coventry Society was shown around the Charterhouse to see the progress being made with the Archaeological investigations and the regeneration of the building itself.

After being issued with PPE and a safety briefing we were shown the re-excavation of the monks’ cells, just outside the cloisters. This area had been previously excavated in the 1980s and the area was being re-opened and extended into the garden area behind.

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There would originally have been twelve cells. The Historic Coventry Trust is planning to rebuild two cells using the existing archaeological outlines. One will be a cell as it was at the time of the Dissolution and the other will be a modern equivalent, where it will be possible to experience absolute silence.

The Carthusians monks lived as hermits in small two story cells, although there is no evidence here of a staircase or any fire places. It is assumed that the top storey was accessed by a ladder. The monks were bought food from a communal kitchen by the lay brothers, twice a day, but it must have got very cold in winter.

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An old well has been re-excavated although it is not certain whether it was a communal well or just shared between two cells.

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Some of the original floor tiles have been exposed as has a garden edge formed from tiles on end.

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At this point we were hit by a downpour and made a quick retreat to the inside of what would have been the Prior’s lodge.

The main alteration to the buildings is being done in the Victorian extension, where a new kitchen and lift shaft are being installed.

At the other end of the building the medieval timber framed extension is being re-built. The timber frame had been infilled with bricks many centuries ago and the extra weight had damaged the frame, which is now being carefully restored. We were surprised that some of what appeared to be very badly rotted beams were being re-used but oak retains a lot of strength, even in these conditions.

 

Next we went onto the roof where the roof timbers have been completely exposed and protected by a huge over-roof of steel and plastic. Each roof timber is being carefully adjusted with oak inserts to give the correct fall and to reduce the waviness of the roof. State of the art laser equipment was being used to get the correct alignment of the timbers.

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Two chimneys are being re-built and a further one was rebuilt a few years ago. As the correct sized bricks are no longer available some similar sized bricks were being cut down to the correct size to match the existing ones.

From the roof there is a wonderful view of the whole site where new gardens are being created and together with a heated garden wall, the original dating back to the early 18th Century when the land was one of the foremost garden nurseries of the age, growing oranges for stately homes in the county.

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Our thanks to the Historic Coventry Trust for the tour. We are hoping that our members will get another opportunity for a tour when restrictions are eased.

The regeneration project at the Charterhouse is being funded by a grant of £4.3 million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

There are more photos on our Flickr site.

Cycle Parking for Organisations

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Transport for West Midlands in collaboration with “Park that bike” is launching a project to support the growth of cycle use in the West Midlands.

Voluntary sector groups, businesses, shops, offices, cafés, pubs, churches, dental practices and surgeries can get free cycle parking! Various designs of cycle stand are available.

The bike stands are free of charge but you are responsible for installing them on your own property (they will provide full instructions) in a location that Park That Bike has approved.

Cycle Parking for Organisations is supported by Park That Bike to help organisations across the West Midlands by providing them with free cycle parking.

The scheme is aimed at encouraging more cycling and people to use their bikes to get around by offering to deliver free bike racks to up to 100 businesses, health establishments and community organisations.

PARK THAT BIKE

Good quality cycle parking reduces the likelihood of bikes being stolen or damaged and tells the world that your organisation is doing its bit to encourage cycling. To apply please complete this on-line form. Click below to find out about the free cycle parking that’s available in your area.

This initiative is run by ParkThatBike and supported by various local councils across the UK, including Transport for West Midlands.

How it works

On application, an organisation will be able to choose the type of cycle parking they think will suit their needs best. Organisations can apply for up to four cycle stands free of charge: Conventional bike racks, heart-shaped stands, wall-mounted rails, PlantLocks (a combined planter and bike rack) and free-standing “toast-racks” are available to choose from.

The experts at Park That Bike will be on hand to support with the best location for the parking while ensuring it is delivered on private land. Once that is approved, Park That Bike will send out the cycle parking.

Following which successful applicants will have 10 weeks to install the new parking. The first round of applications is open now and there is a limited number of units available. Submit an application and also find information on eligibility requirements.

There is more information and an online application form here.