Councillors have approved Chapman Taylor’s overhaul of a key chunk of central Coventry despite concerns from heritage bodies and the recent listing of several key elements
Coventry City Council’s planning committee gave the go-ahead earlier this month to the practice’s Upper Precinct scheme, which was originally approved almost a year ago before heritage protection was awarded to swathes of the district.
The scheme will see a major revamp of city architect Donald Gibson’s post-war centre for the heavily bombed West Midlands conurbation.
This will include demolition of upper-level pedestrian footbridges, ramps, walkways, canopies and a covered escalator serving the West Orchards Shopping Centre as well as extension and alteration of existing retail units including new shopfronts.
Fears were raised in March that the scheme could falter following the government’s decision to list several buildings within the area.
Among the eight structures given Grade II status (see below) were WS Hattrell’s 1950s-built North and South Link Blocks of the Upper Precinct, the Marks & Spencer building and a former BHS.
Historic England wrote to the council in September outlining its view that the proposed works ‘amount to substantial harm to the significance of the listed buildings comprising the Upper Precinct’.
But planning officers told councillors this month that any harm done to heritage assets by the project was justified under national planning policy and argued the changes were ‘required in order to attract a better retail offer into the city’.
They added that in some cases the scheme would reinstate original features and remove later elements that detracted from the city centre.
‘An improved retail offer, along with an improved built environment, secures significant public benefits and it is on this basis that officers consider the requirements of the National Planning Policy Framework are met,’ the report said.
The latest scheme has been slightly amended since last year’s approval, with the biggest change being the removal of 75 student flats in the Northern Link building.
Councillor Jim O’Boyle hailed ‘the green light to crack on’ with the ‘important city centre project’.
He added: ‘Our work in the Upper Precinct will help to reinstate it back to something much closer to Donald Gibson’s original plan. We will ensure we retain the very best of the old,while creating an environment appropriate for the way people want to enjoy their city centre today.’
Historic England said it was ‘disappointed’ by the decision to overhaul the precinct, which it described as the centrepiece of Coventry’s post-war reconstruction.
‘The [listed] buildings, built between 1948 and 1958, form the centrepiece of Coventry’s post-war reconstruction and reflect the spirit of a reborn city.’ it said. ‘They deserve the recognition and protection that listing brings.’
Heritage body The Twentieth Century Society, which earlier this year called for a hold on consented schemes in the city, also expressed ‘deep disappointment’ at the decision.
Case worker Grace Etherington said: ‘We think there is great potential for the city’s post-war heritage to be celebrated as a key attraction during the upcoming 2021 City of Culture programme, and it is a real shame that the local authority has supported the mutilation of these buildings’ refined and modest character.
‘Coventry is a special city for us, and we are committed to fighting for the protection of its unique post-war heritage as a memory of the city’s spirit and growth through reconstruction.’
Work is expected to start on site in January.
Chapman Taylor has been contacted for comment.
Coventry’s former Hotel Leofric - now student accommodation - has been given listed status
Source: Historic England
The eight Coventry buildings granted Grade II listed protection
- Former Hotel Leofric
- Former Woolworths building
- Former Locarno Dancehall, now the Central Library
- Former British Home Stores
- Levelling Stone
- Broadgate Standard
- Marks & Spencer building
- North and South Link Blocks and Piazza
Locarno dance hall and shops, Smithford Way, Coventry (pictured in 1961) Credit John McCann, RIBA Collections
Source: John McCann, RIBA Collections