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Thieves Mar Lower Precinct Ceremony

Coventry people gave their own blessing to the regeneration of the Lower Precinct - by stealing the digger earmarked for the official ceremony.

Dozens of VIPs were gathered in the area to celebrate the official start of the £40 million scheme, which was to be blessed by Canon David Urquhart of Holy Trinity church.

Following the prayer to wish everyone involved in the scheme good luck, Canon Urquhart cut the first piece of ground using an old JCB digger.

The new £30,000 CAT digger set aside for the ceremony had been stolen from the building site in broad daylight yesterday when a thief jumped in the cab and drove it away.

Despite the setback, the project made its start and should be completed by October 2001.

At its peak, more than 250 workers will be working on site and three tower cranes will be used to help with construction work.

Construction firm Costain are carrying out the work in several phases.

The firm has been involved in 25 projects in the city since the 1950s, including the building of the Central Library and the Ibis and Formule One Hotels.

Chief Executive John Armitt said city centre schemes such as this, where the shops are to be gutted and refurbished, were becoming increasingly common in the face of government pressure to prevent out of town shopping centres being built.

He said working in a city centre added to the difficulties involved in the project, particularly as English Heritage were concerned that some of the 1950s architecture remains.

He said:

“It’s a lot easier to start from scratch and build something new.

“We’ve got to be careful of more things being in the city centre, particularly the public.

“Children regard construction sites as playgrounds, which is the last thing we want.”

Project manager Terry Evans said working round the burger bar, which is a listed building, was one of the extra problems.

Large chunks of wall each weighing 2.5 tonnes must be cut out to preserve murals by Gordon Cullen. They will be transferred to Lidice Place and re-assembled.

And to add to the difficulties, the contractors must deal with the River Sherbourne, which flows underneath the area.

Mr Evans said work would shortly begin on creating the structure to hold the glass roof, which will cover the whole area.

He said there would be no frame to obscure the daylight and the glass would be thick enough for someone to walk on.

The shops in the Lower Precinct are to be refurbished, and then a new arcade will be built to Coventry Market and a new multi-storey car park, which will be one of the final elements to be completed.

Mr Evans said the burger bar will become an eye-catching quality coffee bar.

He said:

“We are taking the glazing away and building a balustrade around the edge. It will look like a large mushroom.”
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CWN / Politics / Coventry City Council / 25 Jul 00

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This page modified on 10 November 2008 09:49:15AM