15th Nov, 2018

Coventry student tower blocks plan by listed medieval buildings faces growing objections - from council officers, airport and residents

Les Reid 8th Feb, 2018 Updated: 8th Feb, 2018

CAMPAIGNERS say two student tower blocks would harm some of Coventry city centre’s most important listed medieval buildings if granted planning permission.

Coventry Airport has also formally objected, saying the development will breach international flying safety standards.

Overstretched University Hospital has financial concerns about emergency health cover to 778 new residents, and is seeking money from the developers.

And Chris Patrick, the council’s own conservation officer, has formally objected “on grounds of the harm it will cause to the setting of the listed buildings on Gosford Street.”

The council’s own environment and highways officers have also formally raised concerns about traffic, noise and pollution for residents, and the buildings’ design.

Yet campaigners complain Coventry City Council’s website has for months stated the final decision on whether to grant planning permission will be ‘delegated’ to an unelected planning officer, rather than elected councillors in a public hearing of the planning committee.

It is despite protections in law for listed buildings, including potential restrictions to development in their vicinity.

Following our enquiries, a council spokesperson told us the matter will now go to planning committee after all. She claimed the council’s website always marked planning applications as being for ‘delegated’ decision-making, until more than five objections were received.

Campaigners have responded by saying such a system is misleading at best, and pointed out more than five formal objections HAD been lodged weeks ago.

Council leaders have been keen to increase student numbers in the city centre.

This newspaper last year called for a full inquiry into how planning applications are decided on by Coventry council’s unelected officials, including when councillors are involved in the application or are relatives – which had led to public accusations of special favours.

The proposal is to build by August 2020 the 17 and 13 storey blocks – for 778 beds – on the site of the Coventry Boys’ and Girls’ Club in Whitefriars Lane, next to the ring-road.

Nearby buildings listed for their ‘special architectural or historic interest’ include the Grade I listed Whitefriars Musuem building and the gateway to it in Much Park Street – part of a 14th century friary; the grade II-listed Whitefriars pub: the grade II listed Oak Inn building; and medieval Gosford Street buildings.

Council conservation officer Mr Patrick’s formal objection states: “I appreciate that the city centre has a varied townscape but the excessive change of scale that is proposed is so extreme that it will be overly dominant and oppressive and will clearly be harmful to the setting of the listed buildings.

“The properties on Gosford Street are one of the few surviving fragments of the pre-war townscape that survive in the city centre with historic buildings sitting within their medieval burgage plots.”

Rob Gill, of Gosford Books in Gosford Street, next door to the currently closed Whitefriars pub, told us it would overshadow the pub and gardens, other listed buildings and his solar panels.

He added: “I was really surprised to find that the decision is delegated to officers. This is a major development on a sensitive site. If such an application does not go before the planning committee, then just what is the planning committee for, exactly?”

Other formal objections have come from the Coventry Society and residents.

Developers the Watkin Jones Group’s submission argues 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.

A council spokesperson said: “Our IT planning system means all applications are automatically registered for officer delegated approval.

“As they go through the system, if they hit a trigger that means they will have to go before planning committee, including receiving five or more representations against the officer recommendation. The status will be changed once a date for committee is set.”

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