THE government has controversially listed more post-war buildings in Coventry city centre to protect them due to their “national importance”.
But council chiefs say it could hold up and threatens a vital planned multi-million-pound redevelopment of the struggling city centre.
We revealed earlier this month the proposal by heritage watchdog Historic England to recommend the government lists buildings with canopies over shop fronts in Upper Precinct, the former Leofric Hotel and Woolworth buildings, and more.
Historic England confirmed today the government’s Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport has agreed to the grade 11 listings.
They also include listing the legendary Locarno nightclub building, now the Central Library, Smithford Way.
Councillor Jim O’Boyle, cabinet member for jobs and regeneration, re-iterated today it serves as a disincentive to developers to go-ahead with long-awaited plans to rejuvenate the flagging central shopping area.
He said those plans are, in any case, sympathetic to the celebrated post-war architecture of the Gibson plan, and include the removal of the unpopular 1990s addition, the Upper Precinct escalator.
Coun O’Boyle added actions such as the listing of canopies over the empty former BHS store could affect potential profit margins for developers, and put them off going ahead with escalator removal.
He said frank discussions were continuing with Historic England.
He told us earlier this month the Upper Precinct developers wanted flat double-fronted buildings while the plan was also to bring the shop fronts forward.
He added: “This is no different to what all retail developers are looking to do.”
Coun O’Boyle today accused Historic England of “double standards”.
He said some of the overhanging canopies had already been removed at the double-fronted Waterstone’s bookshop building on the corner of Smithford Way and the Lower Precinct, itself revamped decades ago in sympathy with the original Gibson plan.
But Historic England said today…
“The national significance of Coventry’s post-war architecture has been recognised with eight places in the city listed.
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 and Spencer, Grade II
North & South Link Blocks and Piazza, Grade II
“These newly listed buildings form part of the first, and among the largest, post-war city centre developments to be planned in the country.
“The innovative scheme for the precinct includes the earliest example of a shopping centre in England that separated cars and people, with a confident, kind and imaginative approach to public spaces for everyone.
“Coventry is a designated Heritage Action Zone and has also been named UK City of Culture 2021.
“The city’s heritage and rare architecture have an important role to play in celebrating what is special about Coventry and in helping to bring about economic prosperity for those who live and work there.”
Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England said:
“These listings mean that the scheme for the Upper Precinct which already has planning permission will now need Listed Building Consent as well. 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.”
“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.
“The buildings, built between 1948 and 1958, form the centrepiece of Coventry’s post-war reconstruction and reflect the spirit of a re-born city. They deserve the recognition and protection that listing brings. The generation that fought the Second World War lost a great many of their buildings and special places. They had to rebuild and reshape their England, and they did a remarkable job.”
MORE OF WHAT HISTORIC ENGLAND SAYS ABOUT EACH LISTING:
Former Hotel Leofric
The former Hotel Leofric in Broadgate is a thoughtful, considered design. The great majority of the external appearance and detail of the building survives in its original form and it was a key component of Donald Gibson’s plan for the post-war regeneration of Coventry after the bombardment of the Second World War.
Former Woolworths building
The former Woolworths store and a parade of shops were designed by Harold Winbourne, the retail chain’s staff architect, and built in 1952-1954. The building sits in the Lower Precinct and Woolworths was one of the first of the shops to open its doors to the public. Woolworths were in favour of the new precinct and prepared their own scheme for the shopping centre with below-ground servicing. Woolworths closed in 2009 and the large premises divided. They were converted to use by the retail chains, Boots and Poundland.
Former Locarno Dancehall (now the Central Library)
The former Locarno Dancehall was once the principal rock venue in Coventry, where some of the most significant bands of the 1960s and 1970s played. Part of the outside is decorated with colourful abstract mosaic art murals by Fred Millett. They were designed to be eye-catching at all times of the day. In daylight the glass mosaic (which is washed clean by the rain) glitters in the sun and at night, small rectangular windows light up to create a pattern of diagonals across the wall. Although the building has been converted into a library, the dance floor hall with its surrounding balcony was imaginatively turned into the library’s reading room, so the historic space can still be experienced.
Former British Home Stores
The British Home Stores building is unusual in that the corner was sub-let to Dolcis, with that section designed by a different architect. This building has an air of sophistication, with elegant detailing and use of good quality materials. But the Dolcis section is particularly interesting, with its grand picture window facing Market Way. And its canopies, which are continuous throughout most of the precinct development, have in-built sun awnings – they are a rare and intriguing survival. These two shops have been combined and form a key part of the post-war revival of this area, which played an important role in restoring pride and confidence in Coventry after the Second World War.
The levelling stone was laid on 8th June 1946 in the Upper Precinct as a symbol of the city’s rebirth and regeneration following the destruction of the Second World War. The stone was an aid for the construction of the new city centre. Though the stone was raised in height in 1956, it still sits in its original location within the Upper Precinct in which the city’s architects took measurements in order to construct the new buildings. The stone features a central carved panel with stylised carvings of a phoenix rising out of the flames, designed by the sculptor Trevor Tennant.
The Broadgate Standard, also known as the Elephant Mast, has been listed at Grade II because of its historic interest as a symbol of the spirit of Coventry following the bombardment of the Second World War. This elegant mast is an important focal point of the Upper Precinct shopping centre and was built following donations from several of the city’s industrial companies, demonstrating Coventry’s industrial power in the mid-20th century.
Marks and Spencer building
The Marks and Spencer (M&S) building, designed by the architects, Norman Jones Sons & Rigby of Southport, is one of four key corner blocks within the Precinct development. It has a striking and grand exterior which includes a large window, with two rows of windows set back in a deep stone surround, with elegantly coffered soffits and slender mullions in Westmorland slate, and panels of Travertine. The canopy below has circular glass lights allowing daylight to pass through. The shop front itself has been partially replaced but some original bronze door surrounds are still there today. Internally, the building retains much of its character and layout, with plaster cornices, stairs with slender handrails and elements of timber panelling.
North & South Link Blocks and Piazza
The North and South Link Blocks of the Upper Precinct, constructed in 1954-1956, blend well with the look that was first established in the design and construction of Broadgate House in 1953, which was intended to create a template for the rest of the shopping precinct. The architects responded to the fact that this development was for pedestrians, uncluttered by cars and other traffic. The piazza, walkways, bridges and stairs allowed for a multitude of different views and angles for shoppers. The buildings are subtly designed to act as a backdrop to the hustle and bustle of people walking around; slightly festive with their tiers of balconies.