THE unpopular Upper Precinct escalator in Coventry city centre could be removed following a petition by residents.
For decades, the glass canopied escalator leading to West Orchards shopping centre – constructed in the 1990s – has been considered an eyesore which blocks off the vista of Coventry Cathedral from the post-War precinct.
A petition has been signed 312 people and is being led by local architecture enthusiast Alan Denyer.
It was discussed today at a formal cabinet member meeting for Jim O’Boyle, the Labour councillor in charge of jobs and regeneration.
He was recommended by council officers who oversee the city centre to continue negotiations with city centre landowners with a view to having it removed.
The petition, also being supported by Conservative opposition councillor and city tourist guide Roger Bailey, requests the city council investigates removing the Upper Precinct escalator.
The petitioners argue the removal of the escalator would restore a “strong element of the appeal of the original symmetrical 1950s Gibson layout”.
City architect Sir Donald Gibson masterminded the post-War city centre reconstruction, and the pedestrianised Precinct was visited by dignitaries from across Europe due to its innovative design, as a kind of prototype for later shopping malls.
Coun Bailey, who is also a tourist guide, said: “It’s good to see that Coventry City Council are taking the moving of the escalator seriously, especially as the precinct is so historical and unique and paved the way for shopping across the country and possibly the World.”
Mr Denyer said: “The fifties are right back in fashion – and I see a celebratory restoration of the best bits of our post-war architecture as Coventry’s genuine dream ticket – putting us right up there as an exciting touristic and cultural destination.
“The Donald Gibson designed central precincts set the bar for how the ‘city of the future’ should look, – and while time has taken its toll – there’s still huge scope for getting that (bang on trend) chic 50s boutique feel back into the city centre.”
“The upper precinct escalator stops any thought of this ‘transformation – through restoration of heritage’ dead in its tracks – blocking majestic original sightlines, and sidelining bold symmetry of the original design.
“Its been there 25 years now – but times are very different today compared to 1991. Successful cities have to be beautiful and inspiring – not just functional – so that’s why I created the petition to have the escalator removed as I feel there’s real momentum now with the booming universities and city of culture bid.”
A council officers’ report to Coun O’Boyle states: “The desire to de-clutter the Precinct is not new and has been a long held ambition of the council.
“Prior to the petition the council has been in discussions with the previous owners of the Upper Precinct. At that time the former owners were not prepared to commit to the removal of the escalator.
“Immediately following the sale of the Upper Precinct last year the council commenced exploratory discussions with the new owners to remove the escalator and improve the shops.”
Coun O’Boyle told us those discussions were continuing, and were part of wider city centre redevelopment plans.
The report adds the cost of removing the escalator are “likely to be high” and would have to be included by the new owner in a business case for its investors.