In 2021, Coventry will be the UK’s City of Culture and have a huge opportunity to showcase its diverse and rich cultural offering UK and worldwide. At the same time the city centre is in the process of a major regeneration effort, as it deals with the legacy of its post war reconstruction and takes advantage of a growing visitor economy. It takes bravery and vision to overcome some of these challenges and the Greenkeeper team were delighted to support a recent, successful bid to do just this.
When looking at Coventry from the air, what is clear is the impact the city’s prominent and largely elevated ring road has. Acting as a concrete collar it restricts growth and development as well as presenting a physical barrier to connectivity onto surrounding communities. Complex Development Projects approached Barton Willmore Designers to help them in a bid to break this strangle hold, following their acquisition of a redundant 6.5 acre gas works. The site bordersthe city centre to the north, but is currently connected to the city’s theatre square via an intimidating and indirect path under the elevated ring road. The vision was to develop a green infrastructure-led design proposal which would reconnect the heart of the city with the Edwardian Naul’s Mill Park and its surrounding residential communities. But how do you bring green to a concrete dominated industrial wasteland?
The Design proposal
“The underpass was a huge cathedral like space (see below) but also in our minds a blank canvas,” said John Haxworth, lead on the project. “Greening it is by no means easy but our design looks to transform it into ‘Radford Underpark’ using hard and soft landscaping. By greening the concrete columns and animating and populating it through a climbing wall, public art, dynamic lighting and a performance space this place could really come alive.”
The linear park then leads the visitor some 300m to Naul’s Mill Park along the culverted Radford Brook. There are lots of these culverted streams across Coventry and actually, part of the reason we secured this commission was our design response to this very situation at Longbridge, just up the road. Here we opened up a culverted waterway and softened it back into the landscape. The proposal here however take this one step further, with the culvert remaining as a storm drain, allowing a steady flow to be directed to a surface level recreation of the natural brook”
The project also provided the opportunity to rethink the body of water also fed by the brook in Naul’s Mill Park. Originally a 12th century mill pond, the concrete lined, Edwardian model boating lake had lain empty due to leakages for many years. “By breaking out the concrete and softening the edges we are proposing a far more biodiverse and ecologically interesting offer far more like the original mill pond,” adds John. “This approach makes use of the stream’s flow and provides greater opportunity for experiencing nature. We also plan to use the concrete excavated as hardcore across the broader site.”
The challenges along the way
There is no doubt that this is a visionary ambition that has been conceived and driven by the private sector in partnership with the Council. Securing support and funding from the West Midlands Combined Authority however, was critical to it being realised. To do this, we needed to be able to present a robust long-term finance and management model. Greenkeeper and the ability it has to demonstrate the local community value this project will generate, in terms of enhanced visitor numbers and resultant physical health and wellbeing benefits, was key to convincing the local authority and WMCA to permit and support the proposals.
In total Greenkeeper estimates that some 46,000 new visitors will be secured through this greenspace per annum. This is ten times more than the average Coventry park of a similar scale sees in a year. As a result, it will deliver £900,000 per annum in physical health and wellbeing value to the new and existing local community.
“I am passionate about realising the regeneration of Coventry and maximising the impact our year as City of Culture can have on the urban fabric,” says Ian Harrabin, Director at Complex Development Projects.
“Our site offers huge opportunity for regeneration of the wider area and community benefit. We wanted green infrastructure to be the core feature of our major residential development and putting this in upfront means that it will have an immediate impact on delivery and overall success. These exciting new spaces will provide a wonderful green resource for existing and new local residents, as well as visitors. They make innovative use of forgotten urban spaces and reintroduce long lost natural landscape into the heart of the city. Establishing a financial and management model which could ensure they are sustained was of paramount importance. Greenkeeper was therefore hugely helpful in demonstrating the value this bold new park will deliver to the health and wellbeing of the local community.”