Councillors fear Chapman Taylor’s proposed overhaul of a key chunk of central Coventry could collapse after key buildings within it were listed
The practice received consent for its Upper Precinct scheme just before Christmas, despite concerns about the impact of the development from heritage bodies and the council’s own conservation officer.
Now there is anxiety that the developer behind the project – Shearer Property Group – could walk away after ministers took Historic England advice and granted protection for swathes of the city. It is understood the scheme would now require listed building consent to go ahead.
Councillor Jim O’Boyle told the AJ: ‘A city has to live and grow. We are trying to make the best of what we have and [listing the buildings] could scare away the developers.
’It could happen – listing can put zeros on bills. Coventry is regarded as a marginal city in terms of returns on investment and this could spook the developers.
’I understand discussions are ongoing to find a way forward. The developer remains confident but it does not take much for a marginal scheme to go into the red.’
Among the eight structures given Grade II status is WS Hattrell’s 1950s-built North and South Link Blocks of the Upper Precinct.
Chapman Taylor proposes to extend and alter the shopfronts underneath first-floor walkways on both blocks, as well as adding a fourth floor to the North Link to create student accommodation.
The Marks & Spencer building and a former British Home Stores building, both within the Chapman Taylor scheme, were also listed.
Heritage body The Twentieth Century Society, which has been campaigning for more protection for Coventry’s built environment, last month called for a hold on consented schemes in the city. The society said Chapman Taylor’s scheme would involve demolition of key parts of city architect Donald Gibson’s post-war Coventry centre.
‘These listing decisions have come just in time,’ said the society in a statement this week. ‘Approved plans to infill the colonnades, make major changes to the glazing and remove canopies will now need listed building consent.
‘This gives us the opportunity to make a stronger case for proposals that will rejuvenate the area and bring it up to modern requirements, but which will not come at the expense of what makes the area so special.’
Coventry’s Upper Precinct in 2014
Source: Historic England
Historic England chief executive Duncan Wilson said: ‘The reinvention of Coventry after the Second World War, and the vital role that its post-war architecture played in restoring pride and confidence, was renowned internationally.
‘These listings recognise a vitally important period in our national life, and places that have now come of age and will continue to play an important part in the evolving life of this great city.’
In a report to councillors in December, a council conservation officer called for any decision on the Upper Precinct transformation to be deferred until it was known whether elements of the existing area would be listed.
The officer warned that although the harm of the scheme would be ’less than substantial’, many of its benefits ‘could probably be achieved without any harm at all’. The officer objected to ’avoidable harm caused to non-designated heritage assets’.
An Historic England spokesperson confirmed this week that the listings meant the Upper Precinct scheme would need listed building consent.
’Historic England will advise on the proposals as quickly as possible when the formal application is made, but the decision on any application lies with the local planning authority, Coventry City Council,’ they added.
Chapman Taylor and Shearer Property Group have 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 heritage protection
Former Hotel Leofric, Grade II
Former Woolworths building, Grade II
Former Locarno Dancehall, now the Central Library, Grade II
Former British Home Stores, Grade II
Levelling Stone, Grade II
Broadgate Standard, Grade II
Marks & Spencer building, Grade II
North and South Link Blocks and Piazza, Grade II
Locarno dance hall and shops, Smithford Way, Coventry (pictured in 1961) Credit John McCann, RIBA Collections
Source: John McCann, RIBA Collections