HISTORIC England officers who listed more of Coventry’s post-war city centre have been attacked as “Tarquins” in “tweed” and “Rupert trousers” by a leading councillor – and the council’s conservation officer has mysteriously departed his post.
We can reveal conservation officer of 14 years, Chris Patrick, has left Coventry City Council, with City of Culture year 2021 awaiting, and negotiations have taken place over a compromise agreement.
There have been tensions between council plans for economic development and the city’s heritage – and an increasingly bitter fall-out.
Mr Patrick formally objected to student tower block proposals next to listed medieval monuments including Whitefriars. Other high-profile issues have included the council’s proposed “whitewash” of the medieval St Mary’s Guildhall undercroft stone ceiling.
We sought a council response over Mr Patrick’s departure. A council spokesperson said: “We can’t comment on individual employment matters but we can confirm that Chris Patrick left Coventry City Council on 16 March.”
Meanwhile, local heritage campaign group the Coventry Society has responded to councillor Jim O’Boyle’s jibe in his blog (entitled ‘Coventry City Centre Listings explained truthfully’) on Twitter, stating: “Many people agree with Historic England and we don’t wear tweed!
“We do not feel that such language from one of our most senior councillors adds anything to the heritage debate that we need to have.”
Coun O’Boyle, Labour cabinet member for jobs and regeneration, is frustrated with the national watchdog after it listed eight more buildings in Coventry city centre, as we reported last week.
He says one listing in particular threatens multi-million-pound re-development rescue plans for the struggling Upper Precinct that already have planning permission.
He insists developer Shearer Property Group’s scheme would be in keeping with Upper Precinct’s pioneering and much-celebrated post-war character, including the removal of the unpopular escalator.
The new listings include the ex-British Home Stores (BHS) building and its canopy, the overhang which people walk under to keep dry.
The store has been unoccupied but has recently attracted the interest of a prospective tenant, it is claimed.
Coun O’Boyle says developers want to remove the canopies to move the shop fronts forward and have modern double-fronted flat frontages, as we have reported.
He says reduced “profit margins” from the listings could scupper the escalator’s removal on which the scheme depends.
The scheme also proposes removing the Upper Precinct ramp, and a first floor walkway “links” have also been listed.
Speaking to the Coventry Observer today, Coun O’Boyle said Historic England was now in discussions with the developers, after council talks, over the “economic case” to potentially remove the canopies, which would now need Listed Building Consent.
He also said his blog language was meant to be “tongue-in-cheek” and a “joke”.
In his blog, he writes: “For the first time in nearly 20 years we have owners who want to work to upgrade the Upper Precinct and restore it to its former glory.
“Owners of the various buildings want to invest and spend to make this happen.
“Then along comes Historic England, an unaccountable Quango made up of non Coventrians dressed in tweeds and Rupert trousers to lay down the law according to Tarquin and his friends at the grouse shooting club.
“They decide they like the buildings so much they want to list them. Forgetting the damage to Waterstones of course (which had its canopy removed), but don’t let the truth get in the way of their arcane hobby.
“On the face of it, the listings present no issue in terms of the recognition of the buildings themselves.. rather than work constructively with the owners of these buildings (not the council by the way), they instead arbitrarily list regardless of the impact.
“Why though is that a problem?
“.. In order to remove the escalator, the two shop units beneath need to be removed to make space for a new access for escalator and lift.
“This means loss of revenue for the owner who not only loses that money but also has to find at their expense new premises with better terms for the displaced business and a replacement entrance.
“Listing also has a direct impact on the future value of a building. Why? Because listing means buildings are less attractive to would be buyers in the future because of potential extra expense if they wanted to fit them out for a would be tenant.
“This calculation is done over a number of years. Listing adds massively to cost which makes these calculations hundreds of thousands in negative numbers. Not my calculations but the owners who are spending their own money. If it doesn’t add up, why do it? Let’s keep it as it is bringing in the rental they receive now. “Where’s their incentive to do the work and take the short term hit?
“Remember, this isn’t tax payers’ money but private developers. It’s no good people saying they shouldn’t be greedy.
“They are doing it to protect their investors going forward. This is people’s savings and pensions we are talking about! Yes, as a Council we can help but the money will come from the owners.
“.. Historic England know all this. Somehow, they think it doesn’t matter. It does and they don’t live in the real world.”