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.
“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
construction sites as playgrounds, which is the last thing we
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.
are taking the glazing away and building a balustrade around the
edge. It will look like a large mushroom.”