THE new buildings opposite the Transport Museum have been welcomed as the final part of the Phoenix Initiative. And it’s certainly an interesting development, divided into three sections and dominated by a very tall white structure with a distinctive, beak-like corner. However, the completion of this development raises at least two important questions and concerns. Read John Marshall’s words overleaf.
The recently announced transfer of some of our most important historic buildings to Historic Coventry Trust is a groundbreaking deal and major boost for the regeneration of our city. The news arrived as the Council’s cabinet approved the transfer of 22 individual properties, and five adjoining sites, ranging from two 14th-century monasteries to a row of 19th-century shops in a conservation area. Ian Harrabin, Chairman of Historic Coventry Trust said: “Despite Coventry’s image as a modern post-war city, the best of its medieval buildings actually survived the bombing and were preserved and maintained by the Council, but largely forgotten. These assets offer huge potential today to boost tourism in the city and to change its image – we have found treasure, hidden in plain sight. “At its heart the Trust is a regeneration company, merging private sector expertise with social gain, and has a very long term vision – to preserve the city’s heritage for the next 1,000 years of its history. The Trust is already working with Historic England and the Council on an appraisal of the city’s post-war heritage.” Historic England said: “Through the Coventry Heritage Action Zone project, supported by Historic England, many of these buildings will receive funding for projects that will generate new uses, such as holiday lets, visitor attractions, shops and even homes above
An application has been made by the new owners of the Upper Precinct to change several important features of this pioneering post-war development in the hope it will revive its fortunes. We are pleased to see the removal of the "train crash" escalator, the remains of the underground toilets and the jeweller's shop under the ramp. The upper level shops have always been difficult to let but do not see how removing the ramp and bridges can help. The upper level access to the former BHS should be retained and the one at M&S should be restored to rebuild the On Saturday November 11 the Coventry Society, lost footfall. You don't attract customers in collaboration with Civic Voice, hosted a visit by by shutting them out. Civic Societies from around the region on a study We do not agree with the removal of tour of Far Gosford Street Conservation Area. the canopies at M&S and BHS because We met at The Big Comfy Bookshop and moved they provide rain shelter for pedestrians. to The Box at Fargo Village, where City The developer thinks the canopies mask Conservation Officer, Chris Patrick, described the the shopfronts. And we are concerned history of Far Gosford Street and the designation by the proposal to bring forward the of the street as a Conservation Area in ground floor shopfronts. Again, it would 1992. Project Manager Nicola Poole then told us about the Heritage Lottery Funded remove the rain protection for townscape heritage scheme and Brian Harrabin from Complex Development Projects pedestrians. The developer should described the details of the redevelopment and conservation schemes. This was followed consider adding a roof overall the Upper by a walk around the street with visits to two of the restoration projects. Precinct, spanning between the buildings After lunch, taken at local venues in Fargo Village, Chris Patrick briefed us on other with no columns. This has been done conservation work in the city, including the designation of the Heritage Action Zone and successfully at New St station in the Coventry Historic Coventry Trust. The tour reminded us all what a fantastic historic Birmingham using lightweight translucent environment we have in Far Gosford Street. plastics on minimal steel supports. We are pleased to see the ubiquitous glass balustrades dropped, preferring the retention and restoration of the original zig-zag balusters. Previous alterations have interfered with the historic design yet have been commercially unsuccessful. It is suggested we do not need more of the same. This is an abridged version of our Coventry Society member David Fry and co-author Albert Smith have representation to the Council. released their latest book, Forgotten Foleshill. They will be offering it at FUL/2017/2767 and LBC/2017/2781 the December meeting for £7.
More news and views on our website: www.coventrysociety.org.uk
desired. Millennium Place, for instance, is a dull grey public space which only adds to the bleak greyness of nearby buildings such as Sainsbury’s, the Britannia Hotel, the Priory Place apartments and even the Transport Museum itself. It’s worth noting that the Phoenix Initiative was originally conceived as an attempt to sweep away the greyness of the previous area. But it’s arguable that the old grey area has simply been replaced with a new grey bleakness. One way in which this could be remedied would be to landscape a semi-circular segment of Millennium Place with lawns, flower beds and benches – not only providing a welcome place to sit in the city centre but also adding a much-needed dash of colour. An attempt could also be made to link this new landscaped area to the nearby Lady Herbert’s Garden, thereby embracing this public garden and drawing it into the city centre, rather than John Marshall asks: “Is the Phoenix really finished?” leaving it marginalised and ignored, as at present. The completion of new buildings in Hales Street raises at least We could also insist that Sainsbury’s should have a major two important questions and concerns. external refurbishment of its store in Trinity Street, which is First, we have long been told that plans are afoot to open up the crying out for a facelift. Some readers may remember that River Sherbourne, including that little section in the city centre Sainsbury’s was originally meant to be demolished as part of the at Palmer Lane. At first sight it’s difficult to see how this can be Phoenix Initiative. It was “saved” after the company objected, achieved, now that we have an enormous new building in front but part of the deal was that Sainsbury’s would be happy to give of Palmer Lane. The new structure seems only to enclose that the store a new look once the Phoenix Initiative was completed. space even further, rather than open it up. It would be Well, we’re still waiting. interesting to see any detailed proposals for the area. What And surely it’s also time to do something about that dreary wall exactly is planned? Is it possible to achieve anything here other in front of the Transport Museum which displays all those wellthan perhaps a small courtyard, hidden from view and accessed intentioned but dismal plaques? Like the dreadful time-zone only by an obscure alleyway? Is the “opening up” of this area clock, now gone, this was another arts project that was destined to create no more than a curious cul-de-sac, soon to ill-conceived and poorly executed. I doubt whether anyone who be forgotten and ignored? A similar problem has always existed had a plaque placed on this wall, myself included, would be sorry at Priory Place, a restaurant quarter which has never really to see it go. In its place, why not commission local art students thrived because it’s tucked away, out of sight. We need to learn to paint a richly colourful mural over this entire wall, depicting from our previous mistakes, not repeat them. the history of cycles, motor bikes and early cars? A second question relates to the Phoenix Initiative in general. Now that would be something special! Are the new buildings in Hales Street really the end of the Far from seeing the new buildings in Hales Street as the final Phoenix Initiative? Or do we need to step back and critically piece of the Phoenix Initiative jigsaw, we should see it as a review this project? Are we happy with the way it’s turned out? chance to step back and review progress so far. A comma, not a I would argue that the Phoenix Initiative leaves a lot to be full stop.
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The December 2017 edition of the newsletter of the Coventry Society, the Civic Society for the city of Coventry UK.