Allies and Morrison has submitted detailed plans for the first phase of the long-awaited Friargate regeneration scheme next to Coventry station
Featuring a 14,000m² red brick municipal office building and a new public realm, the £50 million project heralds the start of the practice’s huge 15ha masterplan for the land surrounding the Grade II-listed 1962 rail station.
The vast project has been on the drawing board for years. Terry Farrell and Partners had initially drawn up proposals for the plot south of the city centre back in 2007, but was replaced two years later by Allies and Morrison.
This latest 280,000m² commercial-led regeneration will deliver 15 new buildings over the next 10 years.
Approved in outline by Coventry City Council three years ago, the ambitious overhaul is expected to begin on site late next year, with a new pedestrian route connecting the station to the town centre set to open by 2015. Plans include decking over the ring road to the north of the site and removing junction 6 of the notorious gyratory.
Developer Friargate is in negotiations with an occupier over the next phase, which is also expected to be designed by Allies and Morrison. It hopes to launch an invited competition for further buildings by this time next year.
Allies and Morrison partner Robert Maxwell said: ‘We’d love to do more, but we couldn’t design a whole masterplan of 16 buildings – no one has done that since Rome or Haussmann.’
Stephen Reynolds of developer Friargate added: ‘Between us we know which architects we would like to work with. There’s a strong case to have a limited architectural competition later on.’
Neil Deely of Metropolitan Workshop Architects
Stepping out of Coventry Station on a wet winter morning, the prospect does not offer much incentive to continue. The expanses of car parking, set-down spaces and aged and vacant office buildings belie some very good work the city council has carried out to improve the public realm in the centre just 300m away.
This proposal by Allies and Morrison will do much more to reconnect the elegant Grade II-listed railway station designed by WR Headley (opened 1962) to Greyfriars Green and the city centre beyond.
Today, Ringway St Patricks ensnares the city, severing many historic arterial routes, such as Warwick Road. The masterplan proposes eradicating the elevated gyratory and several slip roads and building a new green bridge and major new boardwalk using one of the existing road bridges.
Restructuring of the highways around the station wins back development sites, which, presumably, will contribute to the costs of the infrastructure works. Geometrically uncomplicated, when it is eventually built out the plan will help resolve various ragged edges around the station with homes of various typologies.
At its centre the simple, large commercial buildings will deliver an urban form that will deliver the civic sense of arrival that Coventry deserves. Looking forward, careful co-ordination of the architecture and landscaping will be needed so that the new station district hangs together – but if this is successful, Coventry will have taken another major positive step in its regeneration.
Stephen Reynolds of Friargate discusses Allies and Morrison’s redevelopment of Coventry
What is the Friargate development and how will it transform Coventry?
Friargate will be the leading transformational project within the Coventry & Warwickshire region. Comprising 300,000m², it is an office-led mixed-use development adjacent to Coventry Station, putting Friargate at the centre of local and national transport connections.
The scheme is planned to be sustainable with efficient, low energy buildings around a vibrant new public realm. Key to the masterplan is a new pedestrian boulevard linking the station with the city centre. The new boulevard will improve way-finding and city legibility at street level. With its city-wide access, the scheme is designed to facilitate further urban renewal in the city beyond the masterplan area.
Why is building city centre offices so important to Coventry and the wider region?
As the economy moves into recovery, there is a real shortage of new offices to meet the needs of business expansion, with a particular shortage of low-carbon, energy efficient buildings. This is particularly apparent across the West Midlands where businesses like Jaguar Land Rover are leading the recovery. Cities are the power houses that lead regional economies but, at the moment, the proportion of out-of-town offices is far too high for Coventry to be successful. Friargate will address this imbalance, deliver jobs and bring economic benefit to the heart of the city, where it is needed.
How important was local authority and regional growth fund support in pushing the scheme forward?
Extremely important. Phase 1 of the masterplan removes a roundabout from the ring road to allow direct, at grade, access into the city. We always knew that this initiative would require external funding and have worked closely with our partners, Coventry City Council, to secure this. Earlier this year, Coventry and Warwickshire LEP succeeded in securing RGF support for an Infrastructure Fund that, in turn, allocated funds for Phase 1. Coventry City Council will procure Phase 1 and administer the grant.
Where does Coventry stand relative to its regional rivals in the race to attract inward investment?
Coventry is in a strong position; regeneration projects often have a long lead-in and the council has committed resources throughout the recession so that, together, we have worked up the development proposals ready to launch the scheme into an improving market.
What are you looking for in architects to deliver future phases? How will you procure them?
It has been a pleasure to work with Allies and Morrison as masterplanning architect. The firm brings considerable skill and experience to the project and has worked tirelessly to resolve the Friargate masterplan. Any urban masterplan will however, benefit from fresh ideas and the project team fully supports the idea of bringing on board new firms to add to the urban grain and complexity. It is likely that we will start to prepare a short list of firms to add to the team over the next 12 months. Selection might involve a degree of competition and we will want to involve our partners at Coventry City Council in the decision-making.
What will be the major forces shaping sustainable urban regeneration in the decades to come?
From a personal point of view, I am impressed by many of the ideas behind the transition network as a response to climate change. Cities will need to add resilience to low carbon strategies to be truly sustainable. In the short term, the pressure is to create buildings that make low energy demands with the lowest possible carbon footprint.