Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Plymouth plan to demolish Civic Centre

Back in April last year an organisation called 'The Twentieth Century Society' whose website has its relevant page here applied to English Heritage to have Plymouth's 14 storey high Civic Centre listed. Now it seems that the listing procedure doesn't involve giving notice to the public and having meetings that people can come and make their views known. The upshot was that EH designated the Civic Centre a grade 2 listed building much to the amazement of a huge number of Plymouth's residents and others familiar with this structure.

Construction of the centre was completed in the early sixties and its supporters, including Plymouth historian Chris Robinson, consider it to be an icon of its age and really the culmination of the post World War Two redevelopment of Plymouth. But for the city fathers the building poses a problem - its condition has markedly deteriorated in recent years even to the extent of the odd bit of masonry falling off. It has got to the stage that it will need many millions of pounds to put right. The possible reasons for its poor state of repair is something I'm not going to speculate on, suffice to say that it's a very sad looking building these days.

The city council have just announced what they would like to do: they want the building delisted and demolished. New council offices would be constructed at Bretonside and the awful bus and coach station there rebuilt. Cash would be raised from the existing civic centre site by selling to a developer but as part of that scheme the city library would be transferred to the Royal Parade site. This would release extra space to the city museum currently occupying somewhat cramped quarters next to the library.

Now delisting a building is not unheard of but is unlikely to be straightforward. Certainly the 3 MPs representing Plymouth are united in their desire to see it gone. So how do I feel about it? Well my normal instinct would be to try and preserve it as an interesting example of its type and because it has formed part of Plymouth's redevelopment for over 40 years now. I also have a fond memory in one of my mad moments of abseiling from the roof for charity; I was one of a good number of others on that Sunday by the way. The building itself doesn't offend me but it's clear that a very large number of others would like to see it go. But it can no longer be a good place to work in and must be the extreme opposite of what one would consider an eco friendly building. Usually I like to see an existing structure updated to make it decently energy efficient for example because the process of new build in itself is damaging to our fragile environment especially when concrete is used. Sadly I believe that the existing civic centre is beyond economical repair and regrettably should be demolished.

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