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Is it Time to Re-think City Centre South?

As House of Fraser announces it is pulling out of Birmingham and Solihull, Keith Draper argues that it’s time to re-think the City Centre South shopping development. Designed specifically to attract the multi-nationals. He asks the question: “Isn’t it time to think again? Isn’t it time to stop putting all our eggs in one basket, relying forever on the whims of profit-driven big boys?”

City Centre South

It’s understandable our City Fathers should want to see our retail offer move up the rankings, but half a minute, shouldn’t we really be taking a fresh look at this grandiose City Centre South scheme granted outline planning consent all those years ago in 2012. Six years ago! Hasn’t the retail trade moved on since those days?

From what I read it’s a challenging market for retailers. Spending is squeezed and costs are rising. We are already seeing an acceleration of store closures among the multi-nationals. Online continues to outperform the rest of the market. Clearly the multi-national store still has a part to play but it looks as though there will be fewer of them. No doubt you will recall that the whole purpose of City Centre South was to provide a considerable number of units with deeper trading floors for the big chains. Does this make sense in the prevailing climate?

The Society has always believed the small local retailer needs better support, especially in these challenging days. Often the owner has invested considerable time and sums of money to provide an individual service to shoppers. Think Agers; think Walter Smith; think Butterfly Bras. Take the City Centre South redevelopment area. There are still some highly successful businesses that have clung on here despite no security of tenure. No promise of alternative premises to trade from when the day of eviction arrives. Does this make sense?

Some of us will have lived through the years of comprehensive redevelopment that brought to fruition the precincts we enjoy today. Has the Council thought through the effect of massive demolition in Market Way, Shelton Square, the City Arcade, Bull Yard and Herford Street? How will it affect trading in the rest of the city centre as these challenging times continue. It’s hard to imagine the effect it will have on the reputation of Coventry as we head towards City of Culture 2021. So what is the alternative? Few would deny that much of the city centre needs to be updated. It’s scruffy and ill-kept. Frontages once the pride of the Gibson plan have been neglected. They appear to provide the ammunition that developers and the Council look for to demolish. What happened to pride in our central streetscapes and precincts?

Oddly enough the more intimate environments of Shelton Square and Bull Yard and the City Arcade have the sort of premises eminently suited to the small trader. So why not restore, modernise, re-face?

City Arcade

The shopping experience in City Arcade, neglected for years

Form a small retailers’ trust. A co-operative that might negotiate the sort of rents that are affordable. A sustainable city centre shining out with the sort of shop window displays we once enjoyed? Put together by enthusiastic shop staff.

Isn’t it time to give our young entrepreneurs a real opportunity to become part of a new small trader community. The seeds are there. You see them emerge in shop units that have lain waste for months.

This approach may well not appeal to developers like Shearer. Perhaps not entirely true if only our City Council gave a lead. Surely there has to be an alternative plan at this crucial time. I urge the Council to think again.

Keith Draper. Vice Chairman of the Coventry Society, July 2018

This article first appeared as the lead article in the July 2018 edition of the Coventry Society newsletter. It was subsequenly reprinted in the Coventry Telegraph. There was support for Keith's position in an editorial in the Coventry Observer. What do you think?  

Reader Comments (3)

The article has expressed most of my opinions. Many of the independants stores have been there for years so can't be too unsuccessful. The arcade is viewed by many as a relaxing area of the city centre that is both historically valuable and functional today. It was previously a very appropriate site for the Carers Centre too - far more accessible and approachable by those who most need their sevices than the tiny space they are squashed into at the rear of the library room. I was amazed to discover that plans to remove the arcade in favour of large businesses are not already being reconsidered

By Beverley Jameson on Monday, July 23, 2018

This article expresses so much of what I feel and what I have been saying about the city's food offering on my website (https://foodcovolution.wordpress.com/) . I'd be surprised if the council can even find an 'anchor' department store group that is expanding at the moment. The changing retail economy means that most of them are closing stores, rather than opening new ones and because of that, the whole City Centre scheme needs re-thinking. What is expanding is the the so-called 'experience economy' - and that is all about uniqueness and offering what cannot be had elsewhere. This is where Coventry city centre should be heading - preserving and exploiting its heritage mid-century architecture and promoting independent businesses within it. With a revamp, City Arcade would be the perfect setting.

By Food Covolution on Monday, July 23, 2018

The arcade is a dump, and the "independent" shops you talk of are places like Chinese herbs and pet stores. Not things I would consider exciting, or necessary for a City CEntre. The prevailing retail climate is a concern, which is why as a young person my idea of success would be to provide decent nightlife, creativity and education. Retail and such has been driven out by rising costs, not only of goods and services, but cost to rent the floor space. Ultimately I would love to see the Arcade, Shelton square and Bull Yard gone. Even the market - I can't see why people think it's of any architectural merit what-so-ever. It's tatty, dated and no amount of polishing can bring it to life IMO. A decent sized music venue could replace the market, and a fairly big plaza could replace bull yard and shelton square - surround said square with some high class cafes, bars and restaurants... get rid of the poundshops and betting shops and liven the place up. I honestly think if people want to come and leisure in the City, the retail may actually being to pick up. At the moment, there are few who really need or want to come into the City for much other than a browse round cheap shops.... give people a reason to be in the City!

By Matthew Richardson on Tuesday, August 7, 2018

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