Conservationists have warned Coventry City Council to put consented schemes on hold – including Chapman Taylor’s Upper Precinct revamp – while an assessment of the city’s architectural heritage completes
The Twentieth Century Society urged the West Midlands local authority to register the city centre as a conservation area and reassess planning applications within it in light of that status.
The heritage campaign group warned that Coventry could lose some of its celebrated post-war architecture before it becomes UK City of Culture in 2021.
The society said that Chapman Taylor’s scheme would involve demolition of key parts of city architect Donald Gibson’s post-war Coventry centre, while further afield, the council’s City Centre South scheme threatens Bull Yard and City Arcade, and Broadway Malyan’s Coventry Civic Centre scheme could see a wave of further demolitions.
Coventry was designated as a heritage action zone by Historic England in March 2017, with councillor Jim O’Boyle hailing ‘great news for the city’.
But the Twentieth Century Society says a promised assessment to define the significance of heritage in the area – with a view to registering a swathe of the city centre as a conservation area with reduced development rights – has not yet been completed.
The society’s heritage adviser Tess Pinto told the AJ: ‘A conservation area should be guiding development plans, which should not be given permission [while the assessment is ongoing].’
She added: ‘We would like to see a hold on schemes consented since the heritage action zone was announced, and for those applications to be reassessed.’
The society said Chapman Taylor’s Upper Precinct plans – given planning permission before Christmas – would ‘undermine the refined Scandinavian character of the upper precinct’, which it described as ’the earliest and most complete part of Donald Gibson’s post-war plan which set the standard for town planning practice in the post-war era’.
It added in a statement: ‘We are deeply concerned by how many of Coventry’s post-war buildings and artworks are either directly under threat or face an uncertain future – and how little protection is afforded to Coventry’s distinctive architecture.
‘All in all, the Coventry of the future is looking bleak – but there is still time for a turnaround before 2021. Let’s hope the council starts to sit up and capitalise on what makes Coventry so special now, rather than destroying what makes it unique.’
Colin Walker, vice-chair of membership body the Coventry Society, said he agreed with ‘virtually all’ the Twentieth Century Society said on development in the city.
‘The city should rethink some of these schemes,’ he urged. ’The process is overwhelmingly in favour of large developers. There are some good schemes in Coventry but an awful lot of bad.’
He added that Chapman Taylor’s plan for Upper Precinct was ‘not appropriate’, warning: ‘It will do nothing for the architecture, which deserves to be respected.’
Coventry City Council cabinet member for jobs and regeneration Jim O’Boyle said the case for investment in the city centre was ‘absolutely clear’.
He added: ‘Our ambition is strong, as is our desire to create something new and exciting while retaining the very best of Gibson’s original vision.
‘We value highly the uniqueness of our city centre and we want to work with Historic England to come up with a plan that works for them, for us and for the people of our city. What’s more we have a track record on this, and two schemes – at the Co-op and the Coventry Telegraph – have both been recognised and praised by Historic England.’
O’Boyle said shops and businesses were ‘not dirty words’, adding: ‘A hold on all schemes isn’t going to happen – and it’s not needed. We value the rich heritage that we have and we have no intention of walking roughshod all over it. I can assure people of that.’
Historic England said it was keen to work with the council on its built environment.
’Our job is to think beyond short-term business and political cycles, and focus on the long-term economic, cultural and social wellbeing of Coventry,’ said a spokesperson. ’We believe the redevelopment of the Upper Precinct is a great opportunity to use the wonderful architecture of the city to deliver real and lasting benefits for Coventry.’
Chapman Taylor and Broadway Malyan have been contacted for comment.
Chapman taylor upper precinct coventry current