I acknowledge like most Coventrians that Coventry City Centre could be better. There, I’ve said it! Not a controversial statement at all though really, more a statement of the blindingly obvious. The question as ever though is what to do about it?
Let me set the scene.
Back in the 1950s after the war, government said to Coventry: rebuild and here’s both the money and permission to get on with it. What emerged was a municipal rebuild which most acknowledge was ahead of its time and set the standard for city centre retail for the next three decades.
Slowly though, through economic turbulence, the centre deteriorated. It’s no one’s fault, it was a simple sign of the times. Various schemes were brought forward to refresh the place with limited or varied success. Money was sought from all quarters to make plans a reality.
Fast forward to today and the days of municipal planning are a relic of the past. Ownership of buildings and land is complex and funding is no longer available directly from government as it was in the 1950s and 60s. We have to work with what we have.
So, what to do?
As a Council, we have a civic responsibility to work with all interested parties to see what is possible. For the first time in nearly 20 years we have owners who want to work to upgrade the Upper Precinct and restore it to its former glory. Owners of the various buildings want to invest and spend to make this happen. Everyone is agreed to scheme to get rid of the escalator and ramp is the right thing to do to recreate the original sight lines up and down the whole of the precincts, north, south, east and west.
Then along comes Historic England, an unaccountable Quango made up of non Coventrians dressed in tweeds and Rupert trousers to lay down the law according to Tarquin and his friends at the grouse shooting club. They decide they like the buildings so much they want to list them. Forgetting the damage to Waterstones of course, but don’t let the truth get in the way of their arcane hobby.
On the face of it, the listing present no issue in terms of the recognition of the buildings themselves. That goes without saying. That’s why the plans to modernise take the best of the old with the best of the new.
What I have a problem with though is this: rather than work constructively with the owners of these buildings (not the council by the way), they instead arbitrarily list regardless of the impact.
Why though is that a problem?
Simply put it is this. In order to remove the escalator, the two shop units beneath need to be removed to make space for a new access for escalator and lift. This means loss of revenue for the owner who not only loses that money but also has to find at their expense new premises with better terms for the displaced business and a replacement entrance.
Listing also has a direct impact on the future value of a building. Why? Because listing means buildings are less attractive to would be buyers in the future because of potential extra expense if they wanted to fit them out for a would be tenant.
This calculation is done over a number of years. Listing adds massively to cost which makes these calculations hundreds of thousands in negative numbers. Not my calculations but the owners who are spending their own money. If it doesn’t add up, why do it? Let’s keep it as it is bringing in the rental they receive now. Where’s their incentive to do the work and take the short term hit?
Remember, this isn’t tax payer’s money but private developers. It’s no good people saying they shouldn’t be greedy. They are doing it to protect their investors going forward. This is people’s savings and pensions we are talking about! Yes, as a Council we can help but the money will come from the owners. That’s why the figures matter!
Historic England know all this. Somehow, they think it doesn’t matter. It does and they don’t live in the real world.
Finally, Historic England praise the work done at the old COOP on Corporation Street. This is a project I have had intimate involvement in working with the developer EDG. Yes, a private developer. CCC locally listed the building to protect it and have worked to see the plan become a reality. They praise us for that but don’t trust us about the Upper Precinct. Is Historic England inconsistent or incompetent?
I know what I think.