Plymouth’s towering but dilapidated civic centre looks set to be transformed into a £40million block of flats with space for businesses – and roof-top restaurant.
Planning chiefs are being recommended to approve developer Urban Splash’s plan to turn the empty 14-storey monolith into 144 flats with ground- and first-floor shops, offices, cafes, restaurants, bars, hot food takeaway, an art gallery, gym, creche and day nursery
The site is currently boarded up but the Manchester-based developer wants planning permission and listed building consent for proposals which also include include a roof terrace for residents, which would be available for the public on 12 days a year, including heritage open days.
Urban Splash wants to provide the tower’s residents with access to “a private shared winter garden and bookable large dining facilities at roof level, as well as an external terrace with views across the whole of Plymouth”.
The plan will come before Plymouth City Council’s planning committee on Thursday, January 16, having been drawn up by Dartington-based architects Gillespie Yunnie.
The plans also include 43 parking spaces for the flats, which the highways authority says is acceptable because the building is close to bus routes and public car parks.
Although the developer has not put a figure on the cost of the scheme, it has been estimated at £40million.
Planned changes to the building include demolishing part of the north block and reception area; a glazed extension on the ground floor between the Civic Cenre and Council House; replacement facades including new glazing and cladding; new public realm work including a staircase towards the neighbouring Theatre Royal; new public space under the tower and work inside and on the roof.
Planning documents say: “The base of the buildings will be very open and accessible with the opportunity to introduce café, restaurant and retail uses which will have the ability to spill out and animate the new central courtyard space.”
It added: “Improving links with Theatre Royal is regarded as a key component of this re-development such that a dramatic new staircase is proposed to sweep visitors up into Civic Centre and the amenities it will have to offer for theatre-goers.”
And it said the rooftop will be a key feature, saying: “The rooftop offers an exciting opportunity to provide a stunning communal lounge and external terrace space to take full advantage of the magnificent views of Plymouth, its waterfront and Dartmoor.
“Sitting atop the Tower is a distinctive gull-wing roof with bright yellow ribbed underbelly. Despite its concrete construction it appears to float above the parapet and recessed glazed pavilion beneath its southern end. This is a magnifcent space with 360-degree views of Plymouth and its hinterland.
“It is proposed to refurbish the glazed southern pavilion to create an incredible conservatory lounge space for use by residents.
“It will provide an informal, (semi-external) winter garden filled with plants and intimate seating/activity spaces to accommodate a variety of use patterns with the ability to spill out onto the covered external roof terrace area.
“This winter garden space will be complemented by the provision of two dining rooms to the southern end of the pavilion. Each will have it’s own self contained kitchen for use by residents as bookable entertainment and social spaces.
“While the original public cafe was short-lived and an economically unviable business, public access to these rooftop spaces remains an important principle.
“Following discussions with various user groups and advisors, it is proposed that this access be provided by means of public open days to be held each year during which escorted groups will be given the opportunity to experience the drama of these spaces.”
The Civic Centre opened in 1962 as a flagship building in the post-war redevelopment of the Blitz-damaged city.
It was the headquarters of the city council, but became unsuitable for the authority’s needs and increasingly expensive to maintain, and was vacated in 2014.
The building was protected from demolition when it was given Grade II listed status in June 2007.
Plans for a hotel announced in 2013 were never proceeded with and the skyscraper was eventually sold for a token £1 in 2016 to Urban Splash, which has been behind the redevelopment of the Royal William Yard at Stonehouse, Plymouth.
However, the 20th Century Society has objected to the proposed new facades on the outside of the building, saying the changes – including floor-to-ceiling windows, smaller granite panels and bronze-coloured frames – will cause “substantial harm to the building’s architectural and historic significance”.
But the Government’s heritage agency Historic England is backing the proposals because it said any harm to the listed buildings would be outweighed by the benefits of bringing it back into use and conserving it.
The plans also outline space for an energy centre in the building which will be able to connect to a district energy network being developed in the Civic Square, using geothermal energy from deep underground to power a heating and cooling systems.
A detailed report into the planning applications drawn up by council officers recommends approval with a series of conditions.
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It says the proposals will improve a landmark building and the public space and “make a significant contribution towards the renewal of the city centre.”
The report added: “In particular by bringing the prominent building back into use, it will respect and celebrate the mid twentieth century built heritage and help to deliver residential within the city centre.”
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On the heritage issue, the report says the plans will result in “less than substantial harm” which can be justified due to public benefits and improvements to the building and Civic Square.
The Civic Centre and Square are at the heart of the new city centre Conservation Area adopted in June 2019, improving protection for many post-war buildings.
The city council is planning £4.5million worth of public space improvements to the Civic Square as part of improvements across the city centre, and is backing the development of a district energy centre to heat and cool local buildings.
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