A DELAYED £300million scheme to radically rebuild Coventry city centre and transform its struggling shops and nightlife has hit further hurdles and could cost taxpayers million of pounds more.
Coventry City Council is now considering changing the developers who would oversee the first half of the historic redevelopment – the £150million ‘City Centre South’ scheme.
The council is to invite potentially cheaper bids from other developers after previously securing Queensbury Real Estate (QRE) 18 months ago to work up proposals for the 560,000 sq ft redevelopment.
A council statement today says QRE estimates the current scheme “would need significant capital investment for land acquisition alongside the transfer of council owned land.
“The possibility of financial support from the council for any scheme means that other developers will now be invited to submit proposals for a scheme which will be considered alongside the QRE scheme.”
The council also says the re-think is needed because of a legal decision on a similar shopping scheme in Winchester.
The council insists the City Centre South retail scheme still aims to “deliver a complex the size of Solihull’s Touchwood development including shops, restaurants and cinema – which was granted outline planning consent in 2012.”
The Coventry Observer reported last November the scheme for the huge area from the centre of the Precinct towards Coventry station was 18 months behind schedule – with work at that time not expected to start until mid-2017.
The council said today a start date of “the end of 2017” was still possible, with completion by 2020.
QRE had initially been given 12 months in November 2013 – put back until spring this year – to assess the financial viability of the plans for a major-name anchor department store, quality independent stores, a cinema complex, hotel, 40 new apartments and a multi-storey car park around Bull Yard, Shelton Square and City Arcade.
The City Centre South scheme was announced in early 2012 as a scaling down of an ambitious £1billion plan by US architects Jerde in 2009 for giant rooftop gardens, modernist architecture alongside the city’s medieval and post-war buildings, and a resurrected Sherbourne river.
Coventry’s challenge has long been to attract shoppers visiting Birmingham, Solihull and Leamington instead.
The plan had previously been for City Centre North to follow after completion of the City Centre South project in 2018.
City Centre South’s hold-ups are despite a £7million revamp of Broadgate and the refurbished Greyfriars Green near the station, close to the planned Friargate office development.
The Coventry Observer revealed last week latest data showing Coventry’s economy is still performing well below the national average.
The data also suggested city centre footfall at night fell by nearly 10 per cent in 2014/5 alone, and by 3.6 per cent overall, with an increase in empty shops from 57 to 63.
Councillor Kevin Maton, cabinet member for business, said today: “It’s no secret the city centre is punching below its weight – being 58th in the country for shopping destinations just isn’t good enough for our residents and businesses.
“We’ve been delivering dramatic and impressive improvements in regeneration and new business schemes in the city and bringing jobs back to Coventry.
“But, we need and deserve a city centre that matches up to our ambition to be a top ten city.
“QRE has worked very hard with retailers and businesses on the detail of the development and have reached the conclusion that, although a transformational city centre scheme can be delivered, it will call for financial support from the council to get off the ground.
“Although the legal position requires this new approach, it makes sense for us to test the market again.
“Since outline planning consent was granted there have been massive improvements across the city centre, including Friargate and the new bridge deck, the new Broadgate square which has led to the development of Cathedral Lanes and the plans for a new city centre leisure facility.
“Coventry city centre already looks very different to the way it did three years ago and the expansion of manufacturing, like Jaguar Land Rover and London Taxi Company in the city means there’s a new confidence about investing here that simply wasn’t around before.
“We may get a different proposal from a developer which won’t call for a significant cash injection from the council.
“But until we test the market we just can’t be sure. We need to be certain in these financially challenging times that we are making sure we are getting the best value for the ratepayers of Coventry.”
The council statement adds that, if councillors support the proposals, developers would be invited to submit new proposals in September, with a final decision due next spring.