Interview with the BBC

On 9th September one of our committee members was asked to participate in an interview with the BBC. Here is his summary of the points he made:

·         The Civic Trust do not yet have a view of whether to support or oppose the demolition of the Civic Centre tower per se  – more that we are concerned that it is not a definite proposal, just a preferred option.  We are advising caution, think carefully, is this demolish in haste, repent at leisure?

·         The tower is iconic.  It reflects the spirit of the age of the mid sixties, an optimistic time characterised by grand civic and engineering statements and as such not likely to be repeated – that in itself has historical value if not necessarily architectural excellence.  It was certainly held in high esteem at the time as it received a Civic Trust Commendation in the 1965 awards.

·         Times do change, the buildings are probably not required in the way they were – I worked for some years in the Civic Centre in the 1980’ and then about 400 people worked there but there were apparently only 28 computers.  The council’s work has changed, many functions handled by new technology, so the need to house vast armies of staff is no longer required.  This is not to say such a building is obsolete as there are many alternative uses possible – flats private offices etc.  But it will cost to refurbish to contemporary standards, but not so much as demolition and re-development.

·         The Trust’s main concerns are likely to be  the effects of what are “hollow” plans in that there is, as far as the public are aware, no funding developers in the wings.  What follows such publicity can be socially and environmentally damaging due a blight that can be induced.  This happened before with the Lanes development – once the council decided on the area for re-development, as it had no clear developer partner, years of decline followed with businesses reluctant to invest in,or maintain, the area led to the fait accompli of more extensive demolition that would otherwise have been necessary.  It is a moot question whether the success of the Lanes Shopping Centre now was worth the large area of dereliction within the City Centre for so long.  The Civic Trust feels there must be a better way.   There are businesses and residents in the area of the preferred redevelopment option put forward by the Council’s consultants, as well as the civic buildings, and they were all hit very hard by the 2005 floods – they do not deserve further doubt as to their future and further depletion of worth.

·         Given that there is doubt about the process that ‘prefers’ an area for redevelopment only, without having positive funding in place, it begs the question whether the Council’s consultants were given a free hand to assess the whole City area, or if their brief had limitations. Given the sites looked at, it does seem that there was a non-public brief which, if not engineering the outcome, at least involved some targeting.  If so, this should be put within any consultation.

·         Another concern is that if the area is targeted for retail, it will be a retail coming out of recession, so the funds available for an architecture of quality on a highly visible site is in some doubt.