A LONG-AWAITED £300million radical transformation of Coventry city centre has hit major delays, the Observer can exclusively reveal.
The “City Centre South” project to redevelop a huge area from the southern Precinct towards the station will not now see “spades in the ground” until mid-2017 at the earliest – 18 months behind schedule.
Leading councillors continue to be concerned the city centre is 47th in a UK league table for town-centre retail performance, despite being the thirteenth largest city and that its economy is underperforming by £1billion.
The number of city centre properties lying empty is now 60, up by five in three months.
And council chiefs say attracting businesses is crucial for jobs, with Government funding cut by a third since 2010.
Preferred “development partner” Queensberry Real Estate was last November given 12 months to assess the financial viability of proposals for 52,000 square metres of new shops, a major “anchor store”, cinema complex, hotel, 40 new apartments and a multi-storey car park around Bull Yard, Shelton Square and City Arcade.
It is not now expected to report on whether the scheme has market potential before next spring.
But, whatever happens, any work is still set to be 18 months behind schedule, council officers admitted.
Coun Kevin Maton, cabinet member for business, enterprise and employment, said: “Our focus on the city centre is right and the plan will be truly transformational.
“Coventry needs a wider variety of shops and leisure opportunities and we are working hard to make sure we deliver this.”
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.
The intention now is to attract a major new department store, and in turn more quality independent stores, while it is hoped the hotel/cinema/restaurant at Bull Yard would boost the flagging night-time activity.
Coventry’s challenge has long been to attract shoppers visiting Birmingham, Solihull and Leamington instead.
The plan was for City Centre North to follow after completion of the now behind schedule City Centre South project in 2018.
City Centre South’s hold-ups are despite a £7million revamp of Broadgate down to Greyfriars Green near the station, close to the planned massive Friargate office development.