TWO huge tower blocks for nearly 800 students have been granted planning permission – despite objections from heritage experts that they will be out-of-keeping with Coventry city centre’s historic character and would harm nearby listed medieval buildings.
Councillors on Coventry City Council’s planning committee yesterday voted by a majority of 7-2 in favour of the application on Whitefriars Lane, which will also build new accommodation for Coventry Boys’ And Girls’ Club next to its existing site.
Objections and concerns had come from the council’s own conservation officer, Chris Patrick, Historic England, the Coventry Society, some residents, and traders in nearly medieval Gosford Street.
The site is very close to the grade I listed Whitefriars, the other side of the ring road, and grade II listed properties in Gosford Street, including Whitefriars pub.
Dr Louise Campbell, an emeritus professor in the history of art at Warwick University, told the planning committee the “far too tall” plans submitted by developers the Watkins Jones Group would “overwhelm” the area’s historic character and buildings.
She also criticised the architectural designs, saying the proposed blocks could be in “Sheffield, Chicago or Melbourne.”
She added future demand for student housing was unproven, with university demand dropping.
Several conservationists recommended lower buildings to house students, where the ‘heritage action zone’ or wider city centre area be used.
Rob Gill, of Gosford Books in Gosford Street, next to Whitefriars pub, had also objected on grounds of the “demonstrably detrimental” effect on his solar panels, gardens and the historic character of the area.
He told us after the planning committee’s decision: “If you can build 18 and 16 storey towers in such proximity to me and five listed buildings, it shows you can build anything, anywhere in Coventry.”
We reported last week that, despite a raft of official and other objections including from Coventry Airport, developers actually raised one of the tower blocks’ height ahead of yesterday’s meeting.
The plans, which went to public consultation, proposed two tower blocks of 13 and 17 storeys.
By last week, with the consultation ended, the proposals were for 16 and 18 storeys, apparently in response to the heritage experts’ concerns.
A council spokesman told us the added storeys were to enable a lower frontage closer to the grade II medieval buildings in Gosford Street.
We have reported that Coventry Airport had also formally objected on grounds the height would breach international flying safety standards.
Overstretched University Hospital has financial concerns about emergency health cover to 778 new residents, and had sought money from the developers.
Watkin Jones Group’s submission argued the area’s character and assets won’t be harmed, partly because of 1960s redevelopment which included “low quality” commercial buildings, and more recent university buildings.
Councillor Jim O’Boyle, cabinet member for jobs and regeneration, who does not sit on the planning committee, was among those emphasising the benefits for the often vulnerable youngsters who could in future use the historic Boys’ and Girls’ Club’s new purpose-built facilities.
Mr Gill added planning officers and developers had completely ignored and omitted his formal objections about overshadowing his solar panels, including in an official Daylight and Sunlight Report. He said that was followed by hasty, non-evidence-based eleventh-hour dismissals of his concerns, after he had pointed out the omissions to planners a day before the hearing.