I thought that it was time that I looked at some local projects, and I recently had the opportunity to consider some of the Construction Projects in Coventry.
I have previously written about Coventry City Centre South Developments, but as of June 2018, the Coventry skyline is dominated with tower cranes and tall buildings going up all around the ring road.
Coventry and the Coventry Ring Road
Coventry was a great medieval city in the UK, and was the fourth largest city in the kingdom during the middle ages. The city built walls and gates in the 14th and 15th centuries to protect the citizens and these were torn down in 1662 on the orders of Charles II.
Boom and bust periods are common in Coventry. Ribbon making in the 1800’s was a key trade, until tariff changes in 1860 made French imports much cheaper. The city then turned their skills to sewing machines, then bicycles, and eventual motor cycles and motor cars. The motor industry growth in Coventry protected it to some degree from the effects of the 1930’s recession, and ultimately it was war preparations that saw many ‘Shadow’ factories built around the cities residential areas.
This made the city a target for German bombers in 1940, and much of the medieval city centre was destroyed in raids in November 1940 and April 1041.
City planners created a radical new city centre, one of the first pedestrian precincts in the country and Europe.
The ring-road was a model of a typical wheel and spoke transport arrangement, and followed the rough outline of the old city walls. When a visitor comes to Coventry, I often take them on a tour of the ring-road so that they can see the cathedrals, shopping centres, elephant building, and get their bearings.
Some people love the ring road – some hate it. There aren’t many cities that you would deliberately travel to the centre, to go around the centre, in order to pick the route outward that you desire.
The ring-road has 9 junctions and a series of fly-overs and underpasses, and is just over 2 miles long.
I don’t want to get involved in debates about Coventry as a student city, and the huge number of new buildings, or conversions of existing buildings to student accommodation. Perhaps students are the new industry in Coventry. However, I do generate some of my income from both of the city’s universities (Coventry and Warwick), and the growth of student numbers reflects the excellent status both universities hold in the UK. Yes, some students do want to rent a house with 5 friends (not quite like The Young Ones), but many expect a higher standard, with all modern conveniences. I do know that some residential shared properties in the suburbs are being released onto the market as a result of these new initiatives, but they are probably not suited to first time buyers.
A Walk Around the Ring Road
I started off near junction 6, near the site of the old ‘Parkside’ garage or ‘Quicks’ on Westminster Road, which leads onto Warwick road. As an ex-employee of Rover Group I bought a few cars from there, or took my management cars for servicing there. I do remember walking from my Canley office to Quicks which is further than you first think!
I do remember being driven down Warwick road in the 1960’s (before the Central 6 shopping development) and stopping at the traffic lights at the bottom. Five-ways it was called, with Eton road leading to the station. The treat at Christmas was seeing the big tree on the corner of Greyfriars green being lit with Christmas lights. There was also a blue police box on that corner just like on Dr. Who!
I then walked past the new council buildings at Friargate, and over the footbridge to St Patricks road, stopping to take pictures of the tower cranes and construction sites. The waste ground (since the war) will now home many students with excellent access to the rail station, and city centre.
I walked down Manor Road to New Union Street where the new splash pool is being built, and past the Police station, where new accommodation towers over the entrance in the distance.
Dodging through the subways and bridges at junction 5, I ended up taking a risky walk along ‘Parkside’. Risky because of the construction materials, forklift trucks, and debris from the construction site, both here, and at Paradise street. There are no pavements, and my ‘secret’ 2-hour free parking slots totally unavailable for use.
The buildings in the foreground of the above picture are just facades, with demolition of their rears nearly completed.
The buildings here, both on Parkside and at the end of the London road are big. Lots of rooms, lots of new people coming into these areas. More opportunities for pubs, restaurants, and shops – there are none in this immediate vicinity. Mind you, Joyce Motors and the Capitol Tile Warehouse are two businesses that I used to frequent, and have now gone.
My walk took my through subways at Junction 4 (London Road) and past Whitefriars, and the new University Library (1999) and Engineering buildings (2013). The walkway through here is much improved.
As a former employee of the university I spent many hours in the library and engineering building, teaching many keen, (and less keen) students over 13 years. Just 3 days after taking these pictures, another tower crane appeared inside the ring road opposite Whitefriars. It never seems to stop.
I then walked back under the ring-road to Jordan Well, past Whitefriars Street where some of my relatives lived, and I paused outside the old Odeon cinema (I do remember taking several dates there), now the Coventry University Ellen Terry building. The curved stairs are just the same as when it was a cinema. Looking north, I took this picture past the new Student Hub (2013) of the construction at Fairfax street. I did try and get the name “Freeth Street” reused for this area, but my suggestion was not taken up.
The new student hub (2013) replaces the old Frank Whittle engineering building, where I both studied as a student 1980-1982 and worked in offices 2006-2008.
I walked through traffic free areas to University Square (itself much improved in the past few years) to grab a picture of the demolition of Priory Halls.
Perhaps people will welcome the removal of this concrete tower opposite the new cathedral. But then again, they haven’t see the exteriors of the new buildings. The recently finished buildings certainly are colourful, but that also draws complaints.
From Priory street, where my great uncle worked at the Triumph factory in 1910 until he lost his life in the first world war (and gained a tree plaque in the War Memorial Park), and where I had an interview as a student in 1980, down to Fairfax street to see another huge development. Just behind this (before the ring road) was the Kingstones shop (more on that later) where my father worked opposite Swanswell pool, and a car lot where my father bought a new ‘J’ registered Ford Escort in August 1970.
As I walked towards the Whittle Arch I saw an interesting view of student accommodation in this area of the city framed by the arches.
I walked past Mary Herberts garden to Cook street gate, and up to Junction one of the Ring Road.
From here I looked back into the city centre and at the Fairfax street developments. I saw an ‘interesting’ mix of architecture. The Kingstone shop moved to the bottom of Bishop street, and this was the way in for when my father had to visit ‘The Office’. I spent much time here waiting patiently in the car……’being good’.
Many buildings around Junction 1 are now being used by construction companies building the new developments at Bishop Street. This is also the case at Parkside and Paradise Street. My main surprise here was the depth of the buildings below ring-road level – the old Royal mail Offices (where my brother-in-law worked) must have had a deep foundation. Colourful again, which draws complaints – but then so does the drab concrete colour of so many 1960’s and 70’s buildings.
From here I followed the ring road to junction 9 (Radford Road), and took some pictures of the latest concrete lift shafts being constructed on the site of an Electrical Factors. I didn’t take pictures of the new fire station on the opposite corner, but I used to walk this way as I left Bablake and into the City Centre in the 1970’s. The whole area used to be surface car parks, and the work clearing the area (which started pre-war) is finally being completed with these construction projects in Coventry city centre.
The area around the Belgrade theatre is much changed. I remember waiting for the number 5 bus under the Lunn Poly building, and I also remember returning cars to Hertz in that building. I’m not a fan of the new fountain, the old one certainly had some height, and was often ‘coloured’ or ‘foamed’ at the end of term.
Looking at the old Allied Carpets building (Now orange and grey student accommodation) where I knew people who worked for Lloyds bank in the 1980’s, and along Corporation Street to note more construction projects in Coventry with the change of the Co-Operative store into student accommodation.
I ended up at Rover Road and Croft Road- just off junction 7 of the ring road. Rover Road where the old Rover Factory was, and looking up Croft Road where my Grandparents had a house in the 1920’s, and where my brother worked in the ‘new’ Co-Op (demolished for IKEA). Again, I remember this area with surface car parks in the 1960’s as a result of cleared bomb sites.
As I finished my circular tour, I rested in the shadow of James Starleys Statue – a man whose work in cycles led to much of what followed in Coventry. Over the road is Queens Road baptist Church, whose tower was reduced in size in the 1990’s. A case of reducing the specification to save future maintenance costs.
Construction Projects in Coventry
So, is all of this good or bad? I believe it is all good. Students are not the October-May residents that they once were, they attend all year round, often starting their studies in January or May. There is plenty of employment and business for construction workers and companies. Opportunities for new shops, bars and restaurants exist in the Parkside area. These construction projects free up domestic houses for local people. There are more people living in in the city centre giving it ‘life’ after 6:00 pm. It has recently been reported that there has been an 80% growth of dwellings within 0.6 miles of the city centre. There is also the benefit of 1960’s concrete being removed – it can’t be long until the green halls of residence in Fairfax street get demolished, and as for the Britannia Hotel…….less said the better!
Project Management Lessons
Certainly students on construction courses at Coventry University have a wealth of case studies to look at. There will come a time when the available land for these developments runs out, and there is a risk that growth of student numbers at the university will halt. Many of these new developments are not being funded directly by the university but by private companies who see a business opportunity. There are many stakeholders in projects that affect a city centre, and stakeholders with little power, but a great deal of interest are the city residents like myself.
I think that this is the issue here. Each project has a plan and stakeholder consultation, but overall, the cumulative affect of these changes as a whole is only considered (hopefully) by the town planning department. Nobody in 1930 could envisage what 1960’s Coventry would look like, and nobody in the “Ghost town” of 1980 could envisage the student city Coventry has become today. Whether that is good or bad I leave up to you.
Change always occurs. Some of it necessary, some of it required, some of it good, and some of it bad. Consulting with stakeholders is essential, and the wider implications of many projects need to be considered.